Struggling Lebanon records rising suicide cases
Abdullah Al-Sheikh became the latest young person to take his life on Thursday amid calls by locals to encourage those suffering with mental health issues to seek help.
The 26-year-old's last message on social media read: "Do not accept a life in which you do not feel alive."
Al-Sheikh's suicide came as campaigns were launched to raise awareness and encourage locals to get in touch with professionals via a number of helplines in a bid to halt the rising cases of suicides in the country.
It also came as Lebanon struggled to process the deaths by suicide of two others just weeks earlier. One of cases saw a 61-year-old man shoot himself in the middle of a busy Beirut street in broad daylight, leaving at the scene a note, his clean criminal record and a Lebanese flag.
The note referenced a popular revolutionary song that mentions hunger, suggesting his suicide was linked to the economic crisis that has been ravaging livelihoods across the country.
"He killed himself because of hunger," the man's cousin screamed as the security forces carried away the body. "Curse the government!"
A second suicide, by a van driver near the southern city of Sidon, was also apparently linked to the economic crisis, a local official said.
The 37-year-old van driver hung himself in his home in the town of Jadra and his body was found on Friday morning, said municipality head Joseph al-Azzi.
The official said the suicide was linked to the economic crisis, saying the man was struggling financially.
A spokesperson for Lebanon's Internal Security Forces confirmed the two suicides, saying that suicide rates are up this year, although he could not provide figures.
Jad Chaaban, an economist and anti-government activist, described the suicides as a "murder by a ruling class that is prepared to kill us, starve us and impoverish us so that they can guard their interests".
Lebanon is currently going through its worst economic and financial crisis.
French foreign minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, the first Western official to visit Lebanon since its economy began to unravel last year, said only concrete reforms would enable France, a major ally, to help Lebanon.
"What I want to tell those responsible in Lebanon today is, 'help yourselves and France and its partners will help you'," he said. "It is the key message of my visit."
France, the former colonial power in Lebanon, is leading Western efforts to help the Lebanese economy out of its dire straits. The solutions are well-known, Le Drian said, and are necessary to avoid destabilising Lebanon and its model of tolerance and openness in the region.
The crisis has deepened since the government defaulted on its sovereign debt in March, the eruption of the coronavirus pandemic and the restrictions that it brought.
Unemployment and poverty rates have reached new heights, while basic resources, such as fuel, have became scarce as the government's resources dried up.
Talks with the IMF over a recovery plan, which began in May, have stalled over disagreements between Lebanese politicians on assessing losses and how to move forward.
Lebanese officials hope successful talks would open the way for $11 billion in aid pledged during a 2018 conference hosted by France.
"There is no alternative to an IMF program that will allow Lebanon to get out of the crisis," Le Drian said. "France is ready to mobilize itself and its partners to support Lebanon but credible and serious reform measures must be taken," Le Drian said.
A person close to the discussions between the top French diplomat and Lebanese Prime Minister Hassan Diab said the French are supportive of the Lebanese government's efforts and that both sides recognise the importance of successful talks with the IMF that would also unleash money pledged in the 2018 conference.
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The Lebanese government approved this week a forensic audit after weeks of stalling. The audit could take months.
Lebanon witnessed nationwide protests last October after the government, as part of efforts to introduce austerity measures, levied new taxes on messaging service WhatsApp.
Protesters accused the government of mismanagement and years of corruption and eventually forced then-premier, Saad Hariri, to resign.
A new government, backed by the powerful Hezbollah group and its allies, was formed in January and has since been bogged down by domestic rivalries and economic power centres on ways to proceed with reforms and the IMF talks.
“The Lebanese have strongly expressed their legitimate aspirations through popular protests since October, they went on the streets to express their thirst for change, for transparency, to fight for corruption and for better governance," Le Drian said. "Their call has not been heard so far.”
The economic crisis has sparked a free-fall of the national currency against the dollar, which had been used interchangeably with the Lebanese pound.
Unemployment and poverty have since soared and U.N. aid agencies began wide distribution of food to needy families for the first time since Lebanon's last devastating war with Israel in 2006.