For months now, countries all over the world have been instructing their citizens (diplomats and civilians) to leave Lebanon due to the political instability. This continuous state of shaky grounds and uncertainty has left us wondering if an unstable Lebanon is the newly found stability.
We’ve grown accustomed to the political turmoil and civil commotion that it doesn’t tame us anymore. The whole country may be in a constant alert mode, mitigating its exposure to risk however it knows best, i.e. Lebanese citizens have been taking precautions by avoiding any major investment decisions, travel plans…etc. but are we really preparing for the worst and hoping for the best? What really is the worst that could happen? What measures have we taken to avoid it or reduce its impact?
Maybe that’s the problem with being labeled as the Phoenix. The city of Beirut has been destroyed 7 times in history (8 if you count the 2006 war, which you really should) and has since arisen from ashes, just like the phoenix in Greek mythology, rebuilt even better than ever… or has it?
We could be in denial, maybe the scars from all the “almost wars” and the actual wars are buried deep inside. Maybe that’s where the oxymoronic Lebanese personality springs from: Indeed, Lebanese manifest heartwarming patriotism in moments of crisis and on major holidays like independence day, Army day…etc. yet remain unmotivated to make a difference in their own country otherwise. There is no doubt that the Lebanese love their country, so why does the love stop at social media rants, angry messages directed to the government and foreign opinions? Why is it when the country needs its youth’s brains, energy and patriotism the most, we go on and waste it on sarcasm, self-pity, despair and the urge to leave. A people with so much passion in its art, music, food, hospitality, its love of life, why can’t that passion be applied in a manner that is conducive to a greater good? Soon you will realize that you cannot escape your roots my fellow Lebanese, and no matter how much you try, (believe me I have) you cannot take them with you when you leave. This is not just your country, it is that of your children and their children, and if you don’t protect it from potential harm, who will?
Every one of us is a risk manager, our overprotective and caring moms (bless them) taught us that in their loving advices for us: Put on a jacket to avoid a cold, wear sunscreen, save your money, don’t drink and drive, study, don’t smoke, don’t get a tattoo (still questioning that one) and we know the basic steps of risk management already: Identify the risk, analyze it, measure it, identify controls for it, implement them, and monitor the process. Let me paint a familiar picture of an incomplete risk management process: think about when you first begin a romantic relationship and you know there is a potential heartbreak that may be inflicted upon you somewhere along the way. You essentially negotiate with yourself, weigh the opportunities, the fears, the benefits, picture a worst-case scenario, and measure its likelihood. If you can convince yourself that it can’t be worse than your first heartbreak ever, especially if your first wasn’t your last, you know you’ll get over it again, so why prepare for it or avoid it?
The same applies to our preparedness for disaster. Though we may hate how the west portrays us when they show bombs, camels, and deserts when we really want them to see beaches, nightlife, history and beautiful women, we are nevertheless extremely comfortable with feelings of pity being expressed about our country and put ourselves in the forefront of every middle eastern conflict, like we are victims of a bigger cause. The newsflash we missed is as follows though: The Arab spring has come and gone (maybe) and Lebanon is no longer just a “victim” of external regional conflicts that only involve us because we are in the way. We are not victims of really bad neighbors; these are the same neighbors that put us on the map, but not being part of the solution, makes us part of the problem, and the worst part is, we point fingers at each other instead of seeing the fingers pointed at us. Right now, do yourself a favor and point your index at something, now take a look at your hand, see the three fingers pointing back at you?
They say practice makes perfect, but I think the exception to that rule is you have to actually learn from previous attempts and be better prepared for their potential reoccurrence for the saying to apply. Allow me to elaborate: a few Lebanese cities have had their share of terrorist activity, unjustified human and infrastructure losses, numerous immaterialized threats, chased by a plethora of negative externalities such as absence of tourists, overall weakness in national security, brain drain, to name a few, but once the dust settles how do we fix what’s broken? Better yet, do we even try to avoid the potentially reoccurring risk exposure? No, we don’t. The truth is, as Lebanese, we have no idea how to prepare for a disaster or how to act in one, we just run to the eye of the storm instead of preparing food, water, shelter, evacuation strategy, etc. So no, “practice doesn’t make perfect”, because our bruised memory tells us, that just like a heartbreak, we’ve been through it before, and we can get over it again.
Political instability has become the new norm, and I am concerned that if the illusion that nothing feels broken because it has never been otherwise remains, then no one will bother fixing it. You know, because normal is so mainstream.
Do you agree that we need more education in disaster risk management?