Lebanon after Lausanne: a society falling further into disarray?
The eight members of the Ibrahim family, their home destroyed, some of their children wounded, their funds dried up, symbolize today's Lebanon. Like this country, which lacks revenues to meet basic relief and reconstruction needs, the Ibrahims find themselves without a source of income. The father was a stevedore at Beirut port - one of the government's main revenue sources - when fighting closed it last month.
In a country where 500,000 people are homeless, the Ibrahims have been forced to flee their home three times in nine years. They now live in a single room in the Raml el Zarif school - ''home'' to some 400 other refugees.
In a country where Lebanese agricultural production has been halved over the past two years, the Ibrahims constantly worry about the source of their next meal.
In a country whose capital city school system has closed down yet again, this time indefinitely, the Ibrahims are concerned about their children's future.
And, finally, in a country whose nine leading warlords have again just failed to patch up their differences in reconciliation talks, the Ibrahims are among those who fear that their society is about to disintegrate.
An entire generation of Lebanese has grown up experiencing local wars and foreign invasions. Economists and diplomats estimate that up to two-thirds of Lebanon's 3.5 million people have been displaced since the 1975-76 civil war began, many several times.
Minister of Health Adnan Mrowa said this week that half a million Lebanese had been ''thrown onto the streets'' over the last few months - a figure he said was equivalent, proportionately, to 30 million Americans being made homeless in the United States.
The sense of desperation is evident here in the familiar sight of trucks, thronged by men, women, and children, distributing water, tuna, blankets, rice, candles, and soap. The International Red Cross, just one of many local and foreign relief agencies operating at full steam in Lebanon, distributed basics to 72,000 in Beirut in February alone.
''There is a huge problem of poverty that the war has created,'' said Serge Caccia of the Red Cross. ''We can give someone food and a blanket, but we cannot give him a job.''
Until the latest phase of the war began in February, the 10 members of the Said Ahmed family had managed somehow to survive intact. But this middle-class family is now hiding out in the Clemenceau Cinema's underground snack bar, living most of the time in darkness save for a tiny gas lantern that burns one dollar's worth of fuel every three hours.
Walid Said Ahmed, a government civil servant, rarely changes from his pajamas , oblivious as to whether it is night or day. The family sleeps on the cinema's aisles.
Despite a string of cease-fires declared over the past six weeks, they have not dared go to their home near the volatile ''green line'' that divides Muslim-dominated west Beirut from the Christian east.
''After nine years of cease-fires, you don't believe in them anymore,'' he explains.
The Said Ahmeds have not traveled to east Beirut since the first trouble broke out nine years ago, mainly for fear of being kidnapped by Christian militias. Thousands have been abducted on both sides of the line and in other parts of Lebanon, many never heard of again.
Although the Lausanne participants agreed to a swap of prisoners and kidnap victims, disputes over lists of names have so far prevented an exchange. Many Beirutis say that this shows how little commitment to peace there is among the politicos.
The Said Ahmeds are well off compared with the 500 crowded into the Broadway Cinema on Hamra Street. Every government school and public building in west Beirut, where the situation is worse because of heavy bombing last month, is full of homeless people.
In the past, the extended family has been a source of aid during crises. But Marwan Iskandar, a leading local economist, says that ''cushion'' is gone because of the physical destruction and the near collapse of the economy.
''There are either no funds or no space to take in outside family anymore,'' he said.
The disintegration of life in a once highly-sophisticated country has been further complicated by the absence of regular electricity since last August, which in turn has affected pumps needed to supply water.
Garbage collection is limited to lulls in the fighting, and, at that, is erratically provided by private business groups, militias, or relief agencies.