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Lebanon is one of the most expensive countries in the Middle East relative to its per capita income as citizens suffer from a rising cost of living and low salaries. High prices are primarily driven by two factors. The first is unfair market competition due to government monopolies, oligopolies, and exclusive agencies. The second factor is the ineffective infrastructure, including electricity, transportation, and telecommunications, which has a direct impact on the prices paid by citizens, and affects prices indirectly by increasing the cost of production, transportation, and storage of products.
This policy brief examines existing research and policies to assess the true nature of the problem, under the limitations imposed by the lack of reliable research and data on cost-of-living, which affects effective, evidence-based policy-making. This is followed by an assessment of possible policy options to address the high cost of living, along with recommendations for practical actions that can be pushed forth by civil society organizations (CSOs). The recommended policy calls for development of a unified vision for revamping infrastructure across all sectors, with decentralized implementation in the hands of the relevant ministries. A robust implementation strategy must be adopted detailing the structures, people, processes, and systems required to turn this vision into reality.
Implementation of these recommendations require CSOs in Lebanon to recognize the importance of this issue and their own ability to effect change, while challenging citizen apathy towards a problem that many deem too complex for them to influence. Citizens must be reminded that improved infrastructure such as electricity and water is not only essential for reducing the cost of living and fostering growth, but is also a basic human right for all Lebanese across geographic locations, confessions, and walks of life. With effective citizen mobilization, civil society will be equipped to generate sufficient political will at the level of government to make infrastructure reform a national priority.