On the eve of the 1975 Civil War, Lebanon's general standard of living was comfortable and higher than that in any other Arab country. Regional variations existed in housing standards and sanitation and in quality of diet, but according to government surveys most Lebanese were adequately sheltered and fed. Known for their ingenuity and resourcefulness in trading and in entrepreneurship, the Lebanese have shown a marked ability to create prosperity in a country which is not richly endowed with natural resources. Economic gain was a strong motivating force in all social groups.
Many problems affecting the general welfare before the war stemmed from high prices and the massive rural exodus to the cities. This exodus has been linked to rapid soil erosion, fragmented landholdings, and a distinct preference of most Lebanese for urban living and for urban occupations. The population increase in the cities, especially in Beirut, created severe housing shortages for those unable to pay the high rents for modern apartments. It also aggravated the problems of urban transportation and planning. The high cost of living, which had been steadily rising since the 1950s, further diminished the purchasing power of small rural incomes and threatened the consumption patterns of lowand middle-income groups in the cities. Of special concern were high rents, school fees, and the price of food and clothing. Many urban households lived on credit, and indebtedness was widespread in some parts of the countryside.
In urban centers, where the Western influence was most apparent in the 1980s, there had been a tremendous increase in modern apartment buildings that had almost erased the scenes of traditional-style houses with red-tiled roofs. The government did not take action during the construction boom of the early 1970s to protect these remnants of Lebanon's culture. In rural Lebanon, houses with flat earthen roofs were the most common. The size and shape of the house indicated one's economic status.
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