Having the population of your country increase by a fifth in three years is, well, somewhat problematic. That said, the country is handling it remarkably well, at least in economic terms.
Important context: the GDP of Lebanon in 2012 came to $42.9 billion and government expenditures of $13.3 billion against revenues of $9.4 billion.
First, schools. There were about 350,000 students enrolled in the Lebanese public school system. (If that number seems small for a country of 4.4 million people, it is because most Lebanese send their children to sectarian schools.) The Ministry of Social Affairs (MOSA) reported that 33,000 Syrian students have registered since the start of the war, at a cost of about $1,000 per student. (Only 0.4% of government revenue.) The good thing? Syrian schools still have a spare capacity of 90,000 seats. The bad thing? That capacity isn’t where the refugees are. UPDATE: The really bad thing? Even 90,000 would not come close to providing seats for all school-age refugees.
Second, health care. The national government is hands-off, leaving it to NGOs, UNHCR, and local governments. So far, UNHCR has covered about 85% of health care expenses, but MOSA reports that Lebanon is on the hook for $425 per refugee annually, born mostly by local governments. MOSA also reports a total cost of $267 million (2.8% of revenue) ... the implication being that they still have not accounted for the full impact of the current refugee population, let alone what might arrive in the next few years.
Third, public services. MOSA estimated that in 2012 local governments and electrical utilities needed $450 million, or 4.8% of total government revenue, to cope with additional strains on garbage disposal, water provision and electrical grids. Next year MOSA reports that the cost will jump to $1.2 billion ... a very substantial 13% of total revenue. And this in a country that still has not recovered from the damage the Second Lebanon War wreaked on the grid back in ‘06; peakload gaps range as high as 40% of capacity and brownouts are endemic. The state-owned Electricité du Liban has its work cut out for it.
Fourth, inflation. Last year, inflation ran 10.1% in Lebanon. Now, Lebanon has had some recent issues in collecting CPI data. Even if it hadn’t it wouldn’t be fair to attribute the increase from 4.4% to 10% to the refugees. But what is telling is that inflation has jumped by much more in the areas that have received a lot of refugees: 40% in Labweh, 50% in Tyre, 100% in Majdel Anjar and 200% in Saida.
Finally, jobs. In agriculture, the Beirut Research and Innovation Center study commissioned by Oxfam reported that Syrians in rural areas are willing to work for $6 a day, against a prevailing local wage between $15 and $20. That said, in many regions local authorities reported that the refugees had little effect and in at least one district, Aley, locals are grateful for the opportunity to rent spare rooms to the newcomers. (Page 40.) In general Lebanon has been doing the right thing in a tough circumstance regarding the refugees, but the government has made one boneheaded move: the Ministry of the Economy has ordered the police to prevent Syrian refugees from opening businesses. (Also page 40.)
(The photograph above is at a restaurant south of Beirut founded and run by Palestinians; stopping Syrians from doing the same seems idiotic, although I can understand the political pressures the government is under to do something.)
I do not know how easy this will be if the number of refugees continues to grow. And I am certain that the political reaction is going to be very bad if this goes on. (The war, of course, has already spilled over to some extent.) But so far, despite serious pressure, Lebanon has coped remarkably well.
More study is needed, but so far this looks a lot like Mariel.