BEIRUT — Lebanese citizens are taking action on the power outage crisis and recent increase in theft by lighting the streets in a number of Beirut neighborhoods and villages of the south and the Bekaa in the east. Thanks to the informal and individual effort, people are able to go out at night somewhat safely.
For months, most of Lebanon's villages and towns have been suffering blackouts for days or weeks. Many residents rely on private generators to supply power to homes and institutions for a few hours during the day, but most streets are dark at night.
Nadim Beydoun, the founder of the “Light Your Path” campaign that started in late September, told Al-Monitor, “There have been many robberies in the Beirut area lately amid the blackouts. I came up with the idea of organizing generator owners to light the streets. We provide them with the light bulbs and they provide the electricity.”
He added, “Everyone participated in their own way. One woman hung a light bulb on her balcony, a hairdresser installed a bulb in front of his salon and we put lamps on the electricity poles and connected them to the generator supply.”
Beydoun said, “A post on the Beirut24 [Facebook] page about residents in the Beirut area of Ras al-Nabeh lighting a number of their streets received wide attention. One generator owner in the Clemenceau area reached out and we were able to light a street there.”
The idea spread to other neighborhoods of the capital and people from al-Nuweiri and Ras Beirut replicated the project in their neighborhoods. The organizers plan to illuminate Ain al-Mraiseh Corniche and are working to form maintenance teams for each neighborhood.
A shop owner in Ras al-Nabeh told Al-Monitor, “There is now light in front of my shop and on my way home, and this is a good thing.” He added, “But the problem is that when the generator is turned off, these lights are turned off as well. We would really benefit if they were able to use solar energy to recharge and keep working all night.”
Some villages in the south and the Bekaa have turned to solar panels to light their streets.
Abbas Hani, from the town of Kafra, told Al-Monitor, “Before one of the townspeople took the initiative to light the street with solar energy, the entire village was dark. By 7 p.m., you could no longer see anything. People now can come and go and visit each other. We do not have to sleep when it's dark.”
He added, “But the bulbs that run on solar energy only run for five hours. In the middle of the night, we return to the darkness. The state-provided electricity only works two hours every two to three weeks.”
Road lighting initiatives were already common before the crisis began in the Bekaa's Faour, Nasiriyah, Hermel, Qab Elias, Qaraoun and Jib Jenin. Hisham Rabah, an engineer from the Labweh area of the northern Bekaa, told Al-Monitor, “Before the crisis began, I took the initiative to light the road with solar energy between Labweh and Arsal. It was something I did on my own, with funding from a number of international organizations.”
He explained that the Bekaa area is fairly impoverished and lacks the support from expatriates abroad that other areas depend on. He added, “Although the issue of road security is very important, especially in the winter, because of attacks and thefts, few projects to do so have very high standards. One successful initiative brought solar-powered water pumps to Labweh, our town, and in Harbata, a nearby town.”
“If we want to light the streets well, we need thousands of dollars, because we need large batteries, proper placement, equipment and continuous maintenance, among other things,” he noted.
Kamel Ibrahim, director of the Lebanese International Road Safety Academy, told Al-Monitor, “There is no doubt that initiatives such as these are very important, but it is crucial that they continue and that they are carried out in coordination with local authorities … to avoid problems in the future.”
Crime, particularly robbery, has been on the rise since the economic and financial crisis erupted in October 2019.
Muhammad Shams el-Din, a researcher at the International Information Company based in Beirut, told Al-Monitor that the rising crime isn't only attributable to the lack of lighting but should be understood in the wider context of the political and economic crisis.
Despite an increase in car thefts since the crisis began, he expects the numbers to decrease this year. According to statistics published by International Information Sept. 9, car thefts decreased by 11.9% during the first eight months of 2022 compared to the same period in 2021 and robberies decreased by 8.5% during the same period.
It's clear that the neighborhoods illuminated by this initiative have benefitted, especially in Beirut, which was vibrant before the economic crisis hit Lebanon.
Beydoun said, “We are in desperate need to feel safe. It's important to the people to have light, showing them there is hope, and that we can solve other crises, like the garbage one.”