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Thieves steal manhole covers as desperation hits bankrupt Lebanon

Abbie Cheeseman
·2-min read
A Lebanese army officer, center, pushes back protesters who were trying to break a bank door, during a protest demanding that local banks allow them to withdraw their money  - Hussein Malla /AP
A Lebanese army officer, center, pushes back protesters who were trying to break a bank door, during a protest demanding that local banks allow them to withdraw their money - Hussein Malla /AP

Stolen manhole covers have become the latest indication of growing poverty in Lebanon as its grave economic crisis barrels on with no end in sight.

The cast-iron covers, which weigh up to 70 kilos, can fetch up to $100 USD when sold for scrap. A practice that has wreaked havoc on Lebanon’s roads for years has now become even more problematic as the cash-strapped authorities argue over who can afford to replace them.

Beirut’s governor, Marwan Abboud, was called into the control room of the ISF yesterday, a governmental source told the Telegraph, where the issue of the stolen manhole covers was brought to his attention.

“They used the stolen manhole covers as a way to get Abboud to pay to fix the city’s camera network,” they said.

“It’s not just in Beirut, but it’s all over the country,” a source in the security forces with knowledge of the meeting said.

“People have been stealing them to sell for scrap for years, but now with the economic crisis they are so expensive to replace that there is fighting between the Beirut municipality, ministry of interior and internal security forces over who can pay for these things”.

The stolen manhole problem has worsened as poverty has soared, a separate member of the ISF said, who refused to be named as they did not have authority to speak on the matter.

The Telegraph could not get hold of Mr Abboud for comment.

Lebanon’s economic crisis is the biggest threat to stability it has seen since the 1975-1990 civil war.

In the throes of a currency collapse that has seen over half of the population descend into poverty, the country has also had to grapple with a pandemic and one of the world’s largest non-nuclear explosions levelling parts of the capital.

In a city that is struggling to rebuild from the destruction of the August 4th port explosion, the quickly disappearing manhole covers mean a trip down the street can be perilous.

$100 for a manhole cover could go a long way in Lebanon.

“It is internationally documented that when inequality sharply rises, so does crime,” said financial expert Ziad Hayek.

“It’s fortunate that people are stealing manhole covers and we have not reached the stage of seeing a lot of robberies and assaults, but if we continue like this - a year and a half into a crisis without any measures taken by the government - it will eventually happen.”

More than a year since the start of the currency collapse, the political class that ran Lebanon’s economy into the ground - while siphoning from its resources in deeply entrenched patronage networks - continues to resist the anti-corruption reforms necessary to unlock international aid.