Lebanon, about the size of the American state of Delaware, is bordered by the Mediterranean Sea on the west, Syria to the north and east, and Israel to the South. Only 140 miles long and 40 miles wide, Lebanon is an ancient land and home to a rich diversity of ethnicities and religions.
Byblos, a city in the Mount Lebanon area of Lebanon, is considered to be one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world. First occupied between 8800 and 7000 BC, it is believed to be the first Phoenician city.*
Beirut’s own history goes back thousands of years. In early 2011, construction workers unearthed what archaeologists believe are 5th century B.C. Phoenician ruins in the downtown area. In 1968, ancient ruins of Roman baths were discovered near the same area in downtown area of Beirut. St George Greek Orthodox Cathedral is the Beirut’s oldest existing church. A cathedral first built on the site in the fifth century AD was destroyed by an earthquake in 551 AD. In the 12th century another cathedral was built in the same location, destroyed by a 1759 earthquake and built anew. In 1975, following the outbreak of the Lebanese civil war, the cathedral was shelled and vandalized. Restoration began in 1998 and the cathedral reopened its doors on December 15, 2003.*
The population of Lebanon was estimated to be 4,125,247 in July 2010. Muslims make up an estimated 60% of the population, with roughly 30% being Shia Muslims and the other 30% Sunni. Christians make up the remaining 40% of the population. Of the native Christian population, 21% are Maronite with 8% Greek Orthodox, 5% Melkite Catholic, and 1% Protestant. Six percent are other Christian denominations non-native to Lebanon like Armenian Orthodox, Armenian Catholic, Syriac Orthodox, Syriac Catholic, Roman Catholic, Chaldean, Assyrian, and Copt. Of the Muslim population, almost all are Shia Muslim and Sunni Muslims (equally composing about 54-58% of the total population of Lebanon). The Druze constitute five percent of the population, with the Isma’ilis and Alawites combined comprising less than one percent of the population and usually included among Lebanese Shia Muslims.*
Since its independence in 1943, Lebanon has alternated between periods of turmoil and political stability and economic prosperity. In 1976, civil war broke out, leading to occupation by Syria and invasion by Israel. Many buildings, businesses and homes were destroyed. After the war, massive projects aided in rebuilding the infrastructure and the economy. (You can read a summary of the country’s recent history at BBC.)
Lebanon has an open economy. The service industry accounts for 70% of its GDP, with tourism, commerce and financial services the largest areas of income. According to its embassy, Lebanon’s liberal economy is based on competition and private ownership. Services and banking sectors predominate, representing 70% of the country’s gross national product. Agriculture constitutes 10% and the industrial sector constitutes the remaining 20%.*
In 2011, refugees fleeing the Syrian Civil War started to pour into Lebanon. Today, there are over 1.7 million refugees living in Lebanon; that is an addition of almost a quarter of the population of Lebanon. Lebanon’s infrastructure and economy are being stretched beyond the limits. While the United Nations, national governments and NGOs are pouring resources into the crisis, it is not enough.
What can we do? First, we can make sure these stories are heard. Stories cut through the evening news and statistics and makes it personal. They confront us with real people and real suffering. We begin to actually see the people behind the crisis–and that moves us to act. Start by reading the stories and looking through the photo essays on this website.
Then do something. Share what you have learned with others. Talk to your church. See what the charities you support are doing. Check out the resources tab on this website. Please do something, because “for such a time as this” is now.
*Most of the information in these paragraphs collected from Wikipedia entries.