A. Living Conditions in Lebanon Prior to 1975 {short description of image}{short description of image}
Throughout its modern history Lebanon has known, in varying degrees and patterns, disparities between the different social categories, and one form or another of deprivation and poverty. The widespread phenomenon of migration, in both its internal and external manifestations - which over the last hundred years led to the spread of millions of Lebanese and descendants of Lebanese origin all over the globe - is one example of the results of economic and social crises, scarcity of resources, and limited prospects and opportunities in the country.

The periods of prosperity which preceded the war did not benefit all Lebanon evenly. Vast parts of the country remain below acceptable levels of development, and their population continues to live in a glaring state of deprivation. The benefits, moreover, did not extend to social categories whose share in growth returns was not adequate to meet basic needs. These phenomena reflect a lack of an overall development vision which would otherwise ensure balance among regions and sectors, and between the social and economic dimensions in the development process.

The "IRFED" Mission study constitutes the point of departure for examining the social and developmental situation in the country. The study, published in 1961, dealt with the needs and possibilities of development in Lebanon, based on an unprecedented research and survey effort covering all Lebanese regions. It constituted the first official document to reveal the wide disparities in development between the center and periphery in Lebanon.

In addition to the disparities in levels of development between Beirut and the peripheral areas; or between the city and the country side in general, or even as a function of geographic proximity to Beirut, the IRFED study unveiled huge disparities in income distribution for the interval 1959-1960. The richest 4 percent among the Lebanese appropriated 32 percent of the national income, whereas the poor constituted 50 percent of the population, including 9 percent which the study considered as "wretched".

Moreover, increasing disparities were observed among sectors and, consequently, in their share of the national product, especially between agriculture, which until the mid-1960s was the major employer of the labor force, and services which gradually began to account for an increasing portion of the national product.

These facts reflect the extent of deprivation and the social and regional disparities with which the State, during the presidency of Fouad Chehab (1958-1964) had to deal with. That era was characterized by a broadly-based attempt to reduce these disparities and reform the public administration. While no comprehensive surveys exist to help evaluate the actual accomplishments during this period, partial and sectoral studies, and contributions by a number of researchers in the economic and social fields, concur in indicating that some success was achieved, especially with respect to laying the foundations for the emergence and expansion of a middle class, and in emphasizing the role which the expansion of education (especially public education) played as a vehicle for social and career enhancement.

Starting in 1960, the State began to pay increasing attention to socio-economic disparities and distortions, and the need to have an active social policy and for introducing institutional and administrative reforms to contain these disparities and limit their adverse effects not only with respect to the economy but also on political stability and security-especially after the events of 1958. As a result, the State introduced a number of reforms, some of which fall within the functions of the welfare state. These include the setting up of the Social Security System; periodic review of the minimum wage level; establishment of the Social Development Office; the Green Project; linking all regions to the electricity grid; generalization of public schools; strengthening the Lebanese University; and, expanding the road network and governmental hospitals and dispensaries. In addition, serious efforts were made to strengthen the Ministry of Planning, by establishing the Central Directorate of Statistics; and to reform and strengthen the administration, and provide it with the immunity needed for proper functioning. This was done mainly through the establishment of the Civil Service Board, the Central Inspection Agency, the Council for Disciplinary Action and the Cooperative of Public Sector Employees; and the regulation of monetary and financial policies through the Currency and Credit Law, by virtue of which the Bank of Lebanon was established.

These reforms did not bring an end to the distortions, but helped to reduce their intensity and improve living standards and the quality of life in the deprived regions, and for low-income social categories. They also contributed to the emergence of a middle class nucleus, believed to have constituted an important segment of the Lebanese society on the eve of the war in 1975.

A comparison of available information - though derived from studies that differ with respect to methodology, purpose and sample size and distribution - indicates that the ratio of the poor in the total population fell from about 50 percent in 1959-1960 to 22 percent in 1973-1974; that of the high-income category expanded from 18 percent to 21 percent; and that a marked rise occurred in the share of the middle class, from 32 percent to 57 percent , . Another indicator of the abatement in the inequality of income distribution was the drop in the share of the richest category (4 percent) in national income from 32 percent in 1960 to 20 percent in 1970 .

During that period, education played a distinctive role in promoting upward social mobility. This can be clearly discerned by relating income to the level of education attained, which shows that the two variables are positively correlated. For example, the percentage of illiterates in the lowest income category was 60 percent, compared with about 2 percent in the category having the highest income . Also, the percentage of university graduates among the poor was less than 1 percent, while it reached 34 percent among the rich.

Despite the noticeable improvement, social disparities remained strong. For example, the share of the poorest one-third of the population did not exceed 10 percent of the gross product, whereas the share of richest one-sixth was more than one half . Likewise, regional disparities continued, with 60 percent of the poor living in rural areas in 1974, compared to 10 percent among the rich .

The standard of services in dwellings also differed markedly between Beirut, other cities, and rural areas. The labor force study of 1970 shows (Table 2) that 42.5 percent of rural dwellings were not provided with an internal toilet facility, compared to 11 percent in Beirut; over one-third of these dwellings were not connected to the water network, compared to 6 percent in Beirut and 7 percent the other cities; and 14 percent were not connected to the electricity grid compared to around one percent only in Beirut and 2 percent in other cities.
Table 2. Percentage of dwellings deprived of basic services, 1970
Deprivedof: Beirut Other cities Rural regions
Internal toilet facility 10.9 13.6 42.5
Internal bath room 14.1 25.3 52.1
Running water 5.9 7.4 34.7
Electricity 1.4 2.3 14.3
Similarly, disparities in educational attainment have persisted between urban and rural regions, with the proportion of illiterates in Beirut standing at less than 5 percent in 1974, compared to 16 percent in its suburbs. The percentage attains 19 percent and 23 percent in the two mohafazats of South Lebanon and the Bekaa, respectively. Furthermore, 70 percent of the illiterate population in 1974 lived in rural areas, compared with 13 percent for university graduates .

These disparities have persisted despite the rise in school enrolment in rural areas since 1970, where educational attainment reached levels comparable to the national average for some age groups, especially the 10-19 years category . The somewhat lower enrolment level observed for the higher age group (20-29 years) could be attributed to the lack of universities in rural areas; the difficulty of commuting daily to and from Beirut; or to the high cost involved in living there on a permanent basis. The high school enrolment ratio in rural areas is not consistent with the relatively low number of educated people that live there. This phenomenon reflects the attitude of people in these areas, who regard education as a stepping stone for improving their social standing, but seek to improve their situation in the capital and other urban centers.

Comparing the student population enrolled at universities in the different regions with the percentage of resident university graduates (Table 3) shows that the percentage in Beirut and the other cities is relatively high for the second category, and low in the rural areas. The negative balance between the number of students and that of residing graduates reflects the "brain-drain" to which the rural areas are exposed as a result of the attraction towards city glamour, but especially due to poor-living conditions, inadequate services, as well as the lack of suitable employment opportunities. The strength of attraction towards cities is felt not only at the level of university graduates, but also with respect to the availability of employment opportunities in the industrial sector in the different regions. This sector, though it did not employ more than 20 percent of the total labor force, provided at least job continuity and, hence, continuity in wages and incomes which the poorly developed agricultural sector in the peripheral areas could not ensure.

Table 3. University students and resident university graduates by Mohafazat, 1974
Beirut Beirut suburbs Other cities Mount Lebanon North Lebanon South Lebanon Bekaa
1. Percentage of university students 15.2 11.4 9.5 16.8 18..2 18.0 9.8
2. Percentage of resident graduates 19.5 7.2 11.4 2.9 4.4 3.3 1.6
Difference (2 - 1) +4.3 -4.2 +1.9 -13.9 -13.8 -14.7 -8.2

On the eve of the war, the Lebanese society appears to have managed to achieve a better distribution of income than that which prevailed in the early 1960s, as well as improvements in living conditions in the peripheral areas and in the health and educational services provided to the poor categories. These improvements, however, were not sufficient to remove disparities, achieve social stability, or lead to a significant development of the deprived areas, embodied especially in a productive base and a well-developed infrastructure. It is generally believed that these two factors played a distinct role in bringing about the war and its prolongation.