Wealth and income are unevenly distributed in Lebanon. Despite the absence of reliable statistics, income disparity in Lebanon is believed to have increased in the last 10 years since the end of the civil war. According to a recent study, the income of the upper and middle classes has risen since 1991, but most Lebanese have not seen a significant appreciation in their income. A minority of Lebanese have in fact seen their incomes drop below the poverty line. Farmers in the Bekáa Valley, for example, have been affected by the ban on the cultivation of hashish, which during the civil war constituted a major source of income for the region.
Income disparity also is manifested along regional lines. According to the UN Economic and Social Council for Western Asia (ESCWA), the average GDP per capita in 1999 reached US$5,148 (the CIA World Fact-book places the figure at US$4500). However, average GDP per capita in areas such as the Bekáa Valley is only US$620 per year. Almost one-third of the population live
|GDP per Capita (US$)|
|SOURCE: United Nations. Human Development Report 2000; Trends in human development and per capita income.|
|Household Consumption in PPP Terms|
|Country||All food||Clothing and footwear||Fuel and power a||Health care b||Education b||Transport & Communications||Other|
|Data represent percentage of consumption in PPP terms.|
|a Excludes energy used for transport.|
|b Includes government and private expenditures.|
|SOURCE: World Bank. World Development Indicators 2000.|
below the poverty line, with one-quarter of families subsisting on less than US$620 per year. Unemployment in 1997 was estimated to have reached 18 percent.
As a result of declining economic conditions, public-sector strikes have become commonplace. To prevent mass protest against its economic and social policies and to preclude opposition forces from exploiting discontent, the government uses the army to guard public security. As a result, the army has been privileged and strengthened, becoming assertive in its demands for salaries and promotions.
The government has generally adopted a hands off policy toward social inequality and has not attempted to redress differences between the poor and the rich. Lebanon's dependence on imports, especially food and fuel, has made it increasingly more difficult for the poor to spend a high amount of their relatively small incomes on the necessities of life. As a result, many Lebanese have opted to seek job opportunities in neighboring Arab countries, especially in the Gulf region.