The Lebanese Republic is a small, mostly mountainous country in Western Asia, on the eastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea. A small country with a population of approximately four million, it was created when the French mandate expanded the borders of the former autonomous Ottoman Mount Lebanon district, forming in September 1920 the Lebanese Republic. Lebanon subsequently became an independent country in 1943.
A demographically and geographically highly diverse country, Lebanon follows a special political system known as confessionalism, distributing power proportionally among its various religious sects, of which more than 18 are officially recognized. No accurate numbers on the distribution of the population per sect are available since the last census was conducted in 1932. Its official language is Arabic and French and French is also widely used. Armenian and English are also widely spoken and understood.
The flag of Lebanon features a cedar in green against a white backdrop, bounded by two horizontal red stripes along the top and bottom. A combination of temperate climate, many historic landmarks and world Heritage sites continues to attract large numbers of tourists to Lebanon annually, despite its periodic political instability.
Economic and Political Ananlysis
Lebanon has a free-market economy and a strong laissez-faire commercial tradition. Although the government promotes foreign investment, the investment climate suffers from many restrictions, delays and obstacles. The Lebanese economy is service-oriented; main growth sectors include banking and tourism. The 1975-90 civil war seriously damaged Lebanon's economic infrastructure, cut national output by half, and derailed Lebanon's position as a regional banking hub and intermediary trade partner. Following the civil war Lebanon rebuilt much of its war-torn physical and financial infrastructure. However, the increased budget deficits and increasing debt was financed by the consecutive governments since the early 1990s through heavy borrowing, mostly from domestic banks. This led to the growing debt and its debt interests burden. The Government pledged many economic and financial reforms at separate international donor conferences during the 2000s, including those made during the Paris III Donor Conference in 2007 following the July 2006 war. However, the full implementation of the reform measures under Paris III, for example privatization and securitization, was undermined and obstructed because of internal political polarization, which was created after the assassination of late Prime Minister Rafik Al Hariri on 14 February 2005. As a result, policy outcomes fell short of the government's Paris III objectives. Moreover, the July 2006 war by Israel on Lebanon was devastating to the economy. A very promising tourist season and strongly resurgent economic activity were interrupted, employment opportunities reduced and unemployment increased. The direct and indirect cost of the war has been officially estimated at $5 billion, or 22% of GDP. The expected 2006 GDP growth rate of 6% was directly compromised during the war, experiencing an 11-point decline to -5%. Around 850 commercial enterprises in the manufacturing and service sectors were destroyed. Public debt rose to the even less tenable level of 180% of GDP. However, an average growth of 8% for the four years period 2007-2010 decreased debt to GDP to 134%. Michel Sleiman was elected President in mid-2008, after the Doha conference that reached a settlement to the May 2008 clashes in Beirut. The National Dialogue process was initiated in order to reconcile the differences among the conflicting parties and agree on a national defense strategy. Five month after the parliamentary elections that were held on 7 June 2009, the new cabinet led by Prime Minister Saad Hariri was formed on 9 November 2009. However, in early 2011, this government collapsed over its backing of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon and the unrest in neighboring Syria and thus economic growth fell to the 1-2% range in 2011-13.
There are no reliable statistics about the actual number of people of Lebanese descent. The diaspora is estimated to range from 15 to 20 million people, far more than the internal population of Lebanon of 4.3 million. Of the diaspora, only 1.2 million are Lebanese citizens.
Brazil hosts the largest Lebanese community; with Argentina, Australia, Canada, USA, Colombia, Mexico and Venezuela also have large Lebanese communities.
Before 1998, Lebanon lacked the resources for a poverty profile. In 1998, the Ministry of Social Affairs and UNDP produced “The Mapping of Living Conditions in Lebanon”. The study was the first of its kind in Lebanon, and measured poverty and regional disparities at the Kada level in the1990s.
However, the report measured poverty through identifying and assessing unsatisfied basic needs rather than measuring income and expenditure monetarily. In 1998 and the years that followed, the Mapping of Living Conditions became a key reference for identifying the needs of poor populations in various regions, in addition to providing the statistical database for the poverty reduction programs initiatedduring that time. In 2006, due to the need to update the household data and evaluate the programs aimed at reducing poverty, a study by the name of “Comparative Mapping of Living Conditions between 1995 and 2004” used 2004/05 data generated by the “National Survey of Living Conditions and Household Budget Survey” to update the existing poverty profile. The study analyzed the changes in the deprivation levels in Lebanon ten years after the first mapping study. In 2007, a national report entitled.
“Poverty, Growth and Income Distribution in Lebanon,” provided a detailed money-metric analysis of poverty in Lebanon, a combined effort between UNDP and the Ministry of Social Affairs. The report calculates a national poverty line based on household expenditures, along with estimating poverty gaps and Gini coefficients.
Lebanon continues to face serious challenges in translating relative financial wealth as a high Middle Income Country, into broad-based, socio-economic progress for its people, with significant regional disparities and pockets of extreme poverty remaining. The encouraging HDI score contrasts with an inequality adjusted IHDI of 0.57 for 2012, while according to the latest MDG progress report; Lebanon is on a path that will likely not meet MDGs 1 and 3 targets, while struggling to achieve MDG 7.
The Syrian conflict has exacerbated economic, political and security challenges, harming key economic drivers such as tourism, trade and banking. Further, with more than half a million refugees now in the country, a figure that may double by year-end, host communities is carrying an immense burden with tensions rising sharply.
Discrimination against women in many aspects of public life remains a significant impediment to social and economic development, with women’s share of paid employment is far below men’s and women’s political participation low. Lebanon has a GII value of 0.433, ranking it 78 out of 148 countries in the 2012 index. In Lebanon, 3.1 percent of parliamentary seats are held by women, and 53 percent of adult women have reached a secondary or higher level of education compared to 55.4 percent of their male counterparts.
Finally, while Lebanon’s multi-lingual, confessional and demographic diversity represents a national resource, it also presents considerable challenges to national and political unity in a time of regional turmoil. The difficulties in forming a new government and agreeing on a new electoral law demonstrate the extent of polarization politically.
Lebanon has achieved notable success in making progress towards several Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) since 2000. Supported by strong economic growth in recent years, Lebanon shows progress in each of the HDI indicators. Between 1980 and 2012, Lebanon’s life expectancy at birth increased by 6.2 years and expected years of schooling increased by 2.9 years. Mean years of schooling was estimated from educational attainment data available from UNESCO Institute for Statistics for 2007.Lebanon’s GNI per capita increased by about 77 percent between 1990 and 2012.
Lebanon’s HDI value for 2012 is 0.745—in the high human development category—positioning the country at 72 out of 187 countries and territories. Between 2005 and 2012, Lebanon’s HDI value increased from 0.714 to 0.745, an increase of 4 percent or average annual increase of about 0.6 percent.
In addition, reaching gender parity in enrollment at primary, middle and secondary school levels, reducing the maternal mortality rate, increasing the rate of births attended by health professionals and expanding the use of birth control methods all reflect important achievements in the area of health and gender.
UNDP helps the Lebanese government to deliver its mandate, with support services strengthening the judiciary, Parliament, and the Prime Minister’s office. We assist in the development of policy and focus closely on ways to improve public and civic administration. Working with the Parliamentary Committee on Human Rights, UNDP is a lead partner in the development of the Human Rights National Action Plan. This will enshrine rights for minorities – especially women, children, and people with disabilities and refugees – as well as the right to access public services and institutions for all.