UCL Institute for Global Prosperity


On the Brink in Ras Beirut: An Ethnography of Livelihood Struggles Amid Economic & Political Discord

IGP Working Paper Series- Lives and Livelihoods in Turbulent Times (Vol.2)

Volume 2 working paper cover in red

18 November 2022

By Zainab Alawieh
Edited with introduction by Nikolay Mintchev, Mayssa Jallad and Mariam Daher 

Lives and Livelihoods in Turbulent Times is a working paper series aiming to understand the changing nature of livelihoods in Lebanon today. The initial catalyst for the series was a set of ethnographic observations carried out by three researchers – Rahaf Zaher, Zainab Alawieh and Grace Abi Faraj – exploring the ways in which the livelihoods of Ras Beirut residents were changing at a time of crisis. People in Lebanon have long experienced protracted challenges in multiple domains, from electricity and water provision, to large scale displacement and political volatility. Since 2020, however, Lebanon has seen rapid economic deterioration, as well as a number of other crises and tragedies: the devastating explosion at the port of Beirut on August 4, 2020; the Covid-19 pandemic and its recurrent lockdowns and curfews; over a year of political paralysis in which the country was run by a caretaker government; a massive inflation that wiped out over 90% of the Lebanese Lira’s value and led to an exorbitant increase in the pricing of goods; a fuel crisis leading to long queues, sometimes requiring people to wait for a full day at gas stations or purchase black-market gasoline at extortionate prices; and an ongoing electricity crisis where grid electricity is available for as little as an hour per day.

This is the second Working Paper in the series forming part of IGPs Prosperity Co-Laboratory (PROCOL) Lebanon work. This paper is a study of how people in Ras Beirut are coping at a time of severe economic crisis. During Zainab Alawieh’s research, which took place between April and September 2021, she roamed around different neighbourhoods within the Ras Beirut area – Hamra, Ain Tineh, Raouche and Qouraitem – and conducted more than 40 surveys with residents and business owners, discussing how their livelihoods were affected by the economic collapse and high unemployment that Lebanon is going through.

Read the working paper