Lebanese authorities 'failed to uphold right to electricity': HRW

Lebanese authorities 'failed to uphold right to electricity': HRW
An HRW report pointed to 30 years of "fundamental neglect" and corruption as the driver of the country's current energy crisis.
3 min read
09 March, 2023
Lebanese Energy Minister Walid Fayad speaks to press about power crisis on 16 January 2023 in Beirut, Lebanon. [Getty]

A Human Rights Watch (HRW) report released on Thursday concluded that Lebanese authorities have failed to "uphold the right to electricity" through corruption and years of mismanagement.

The report pointed to "30 years" of "unsustainable policies and fundamental neglect" and corruption by the country's political elite as being behind Lebanon's current power crisis.

HRW also argued that access to affordable electricity is included in the right to an adequate standard of living.

"The dire situation in Lebanon illustrates why access to safe, clean and affordable electricity isn't merely an amenity but is a human right that the state has an obligation to fulfil," Lama Fakih, MENA director at HRW, said.

State power in Lebanon is only provided for up to three hours per day, despite recent price increases.

A network of private generators provides electricity to individuals, however, the prohibitive cost of generators – at a minimum five times the minimum wage – makes this an impossible option for many.

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According to a household survey carried out by HRW, one in five of the poorest 20 per cent of surveyed households did not have access to a generator.

Low-income households spent a large portion of their income on generator bills, "straining family budgets."

Despite around US$40 billion being spent on the state electricity company, EDL, by 2020, Lebanon's state power grid has not improved.

A number of corruption scandals and chronic mismanagement of EDL have hamstrung the ability of the state power company to provide for people living in Lebanon.

In one such example, a Lebanese judicial investigation concluded that the government purchased billions of dollars of poor-quality fuel in a complex counterfeiting scheme.

The investigation found that the Lebanese government signed a contract with a company pretending to be Algeria's state oil company, providing Lebanon with substandard fuel.

The fuel made up about 70 per cent of Lebanon's fuel supply for its power plants, and the money from the fraudulent deal was routed through companies allegedly tied to Lebanese political elites.

Lebanon's power plants rely on heavy fuel oil, which is more expensive, less efficient and more polluting than natural gas.

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Lebanon has a large potential to transition to renewable energies, with estimates saying the country could be powered "several times over" by wind and solar power.

In 2019, just under 8 per cent of Lebanon's total electricity generation was from renewables.

Despite multiple commitments by the government to increase the share of electricity generated from renewables, Lebanon has turned towards fossil-fuel-reliant solutions to escape its current energy crisis.

A lengthy and complicated proposal to source Egyptian gas through Jordan and Syria, as well as importing Iraqi heavy fuel oil has yet to significantly increase state power in Lebanon.

The HRW report called for an immediate ramping up of "local and utility-scale renewable energy generation projects to decrease [Lebanon's] reliance on imported, expensive and heavily polluting fuels."