Tuesday. 24/8/2021

The Monocle Minute

Image: Shutterstock

Opinion / Leila Molana-Allen

Power failure

Lebanon has been without sufficient petrol supplies for months. Over the past two weeks the limited remaining stockpiles have dwindled to nothing, bringing the country to a near standstill. Now Coral, one of Lebanon’s main suppliers, has announced that it is pulling out of the country completely.

Any journey that’s too far to walk has to be planned hours, if not days, in advance. The country has no public transport, so personal cars, taxis and minivans, all of which need petrol, are the only option. A lack of food transportation has led to bread shortages at a time when more than half of Lebanese are living below the poverty line. Bottled water, the only source of sustenance in a country with no potable supplies, is now running low.

There has been no electricity from the national grid for months. Pricey private generators require diesel to run and can’t be switched on for more than a few hours a day. Those who can afford it are now paying as much per month for electricity as they do for rent. At the height of summer, when temperatures regularly reach 30C, there is no electricity for most of the long, hot afternoons. Food is rotting in warm fridges. The country’s hospitals, unable to source life-saving drugs, warn that they will have to shut within weeks.

Every day brings a new tragedy. Today there are warnings that by Wednesday there will be no cooking gas. In the air-conditioned halls of the presidential palace, president Michel Aoun and newly appointed prime minister-designate Najib Mikati continue to fail to form a government, caught in a web of political wrangling as the country collapses around them. Lebanon has become a daily nightmare; soon it will be a death trap. And yet, with so much else taking up the world’s attention, nobody believes that help is on the way.

Leila Molana-Allen is Monocle’s Beirut correspondent.

Image: Shutterstock

Diplomacy / Global

Exit strategy

The leaders of the G7 are convening for an emergency meeting via video call today to decide the group’s policy towards the Taliban in Afghanistan. Boris Johnson, who called the meeting, is expected to push for economic sanctions against the Taliban if human-rights abuses are committed in the country. Downing Street has also said that Johnson plans to pressure Joe Biden to extend his 31 August deadline for the withdrawal of US forces. The Taliban has called any extension “a clear violation” of its agreement with the US but it’s a measure that Biden is considering as questions loom over whether international flights could operate without this military presence. Following firefights involving international troops and the Taliban yesterday, there is an urgent need for international leaders to form a strategy to resolve the escalating crisis.

Image: Alamy

Economy / USA

Dissent among Democrats

US lawmakers returned to Washington yesterday faced with an immediate conundrum: a moderate group of House Democrats is demanding that a $1.2trn (€1trn) infrastructure package already backed by the US Senate, including with votes from many Republicans, be approved by their chamber and signed into law before turning to other priorities.

Progressive Democrats demand the opposite: that the infrastructure bill be held until a more ambitious $3.5trn (€3trn) budget resolution – which includes spending on healthcare, child welfare and other party priorities, and which has no Republican support at all – is approved first. And the White House? Joe Biden has hailed the infrastructure bill as an example of bipartisanship in a broken Washington and the approach has been welcomed in opinion polls by voters. But he’s also backed House Democrats who want the budget prioritised. Biden and House speaker Nancy Pelosi (pictured) will have to decide whether they’re conciliatory policymakers or Democrats first. You can’t have it both ways.

Image: Getty Images

Paralympics / Japan

Winning coverage

The delayed Tokyo 2020 Paralympics kicks off today and, despite spiking coronavirus case numbers preventing spectators from attending events, the Games are going to be easier than ever for the public to watch. Broadcasters around the world, including Canada’s CBC and US network NBC, are boasting record Paralympic coverage, while the UK’s Channel 4 leads the way with more than 300 hours of round-the-clock broadcasting planned. While this extended media reporting suggests that broadcasters are anticipating increased public interest in the Games, there’s still a way to go when it comes to equal treatment of Paralympians and their able-bodied counterparts. A particularly glaring example is that many countries give smaller cash to their Paralympic medallists than to their Olympians and some, including Canada and Australia, omit to give any cash at all to winning Paralympians. These discrepancies fly in the face of the Olympic spirit of equality and until they are righted it’s hard to see these athletes getting the recognition they deserve.

Image: IVT ETH Zurich

Engineering / Switzerland

In training

Could model railways help to prevent serious train accidents? They already do. In the 1950s, engineers at ETH Zürich, the Swiss city’s institute of technology, built an operations laboratory (known in German by the acronym EBL) in order to simulate potential rail hazards. Built to a scale of 1:87, it is essentially a large toy train set, replete with fully functioning locomotives, signals and tracks. In the late 1970s, as it grew in size, it was moved to ETH’s new Hönggerberg campus. Here it instructed, and delighted, successive intakes of students. But as any railway buff knows, when it comes to model train sets, bigger is always better. After more length was added, in 2019, ETH announced that it was seeking a new home. Last week hundreds of metres of miniature track were finally relaid in Hangar Seven of the Swiss Air Force Centre in Dübendorf. From October, when all reconstructed parts are scheduled to be ready, it’s full steam ahead for a new generation of budding engineers.

M24 / The Menu

Back in action

Chef James Knappett on how 15 months of closure shaped his London restaurant Kitchen Table. Plus: why Montevideo is Latin America’s ice-cream hot spot, and Bonnie Chung’s top tips for using tofu at home.

Monocle Films / Global

Copenhagen: healthy city growth

The concept of kolonihave, a blissful combination of an allotment and a summer house, has shaped Danish cities since the late 17th century. Today avid growers convene in these colonies to find a peaceful place to commune with nature – and a community of diverse characters.

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