A perfect storm of data

by MainGate Staff
Spring/Summer 2020

The dual crises of COVID-19 and economic collapse are altering the fabric of Lebanese society in unforeseen ways, playing off one another. The news media relentlessly reports on various metrics indicating the depths of distress. The Lebanese Ministries of Economy, Finance, and Labor put out their respective numbers, as does the UNDP, World Food Programme (WFP), trade unions, and NGOs. AUB faculty contribute, too, in the gathering and reporting of country-level socioeconomic data.

Yet connecting the dots to paint a society-wide portrait of Lebanon in the throes of a double-edged crisis remains a challenge, one that Nasser Yassin, interim director of the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs (IFI), is hoping to tackle. He’s leading a team within the IFI’s Governance and Policy Lab to gather socioeconomic metrics from a wide variety of sources, synthesize them, and ultimately transform them into digestible policy briefs and infographics.

“We want to put together a coherent picture for policymakers, something that is accessible,” says Yassin.


Nasser Yassin Interim Director of the Issam Fares Institute
for Public Policy and International Affairs


Among the many metrics he plans to use are the unemployment and poverty rates, the amount of government stipends issued, and energy production and usage data. “More parents sending their children to public schools instead of private ones, that’s another indicator of deteriorating income. It was estimated that 300,000 jobs would be lost in the first quarter of 2020—how has that changed in light of COVID-19? At the same time, the public healthcare system is receiving greater support.” It’s a variegated picture.

The team also plans to collect its own data from households to observe changes in spending and other activity on a month-to-month basis; however, those plans have been put on hold during the lockdown.

“All of this is to help promote dialogue in Lebanon, to help decision-makers. Everyone knows Lebanon is heading into a ‘perfect storm.’ We need to show this with data.”