Saturday, October 24, 2020
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Lebanese struggle with hardship as currency nosedives

“Lebanon is finished!” shouted a woman inside a Beirut supermarket, visibly shocked by the prices of goods, which have soared due to the continued devaluation of the local pound. “We cannot continue like this. Lebanon is heading towards hunger,” said the woman, who wanted to be named only as Rana.
A stroll through supermarkets in the Lebanese capital in these days reveals shelves virtually empty of the mainly imported goods the country relies upon.
The dollar crunch has prompted buyers to turn to the few goods made in Lebanon as their imported equivalents disappear from the shops.
“When you enter a supermarket in Beirut these days, you either cry or hurry out because you can’t buy for your children their necessities,” said Amira, another shopper.
Lebanon imports around three times more than it exports and most transactions are made in the dollars, which are growing increasingly scarce in the country.
People are flocking to stock up on candles amid fears that the nation’s fuel supplies will run out in the coming days and the acute power cuts of the past two weeks will culminate in total darkness.
“As you know, Lebanese rely on generators to manage with the severe power cuts which the government has been imposing for years,” said Ibrahim Merhi, one generator owner. “Now if the fuel is gone, there will be no use of generators,” he added.
Lebanon has been suffering from power shortages since the civil war, which ended in 1990.
Meanwhile, long bread lines are forming daily outside Beirut’s bakeries, as news spreads of Tuesday’s price hikes by Economic Minister Raoul Naameh, citing rising production costs.
“The flour is subsidized by the government, but we are paying high prices for other products we use such as bags and fuel,” said a bakery owner who did not want to be named.
“We sympathize with the people. But, but we are paying for all food commodities in the dollar,” said Abed Fakhani, a supermarket owner.   Lebanon is experiencing its worst economic crisis since the 1975-1990 civil war.
The Lebanese pound has lost more than 70 per cent of its value against the dollar since October, when demonstrators took to the streets, calling for economic reforms and accusing the ruling class of corruption.
The devaluation of the Lebanese pound has caused a sharp spike in  prices of all essentials, according to market observers.
The Lebanese pound was at times trading as high as 9,200 against the dollar in the black market in some areas, while the official rate set by the Money Exchange Syndicate stood at 3,900 against the dollar.   “People cannot afford to buy anything any more. There is chaos in the market and the government is doing nothing,” said Mariam Kaddoura, a housewife.
Shop owners, butchers, and small supermarkets have closed their doors, with some posting note on their shutters, reading: “We are sorry, we cannot afford to serve you with good prices any more.” To make matters worse, bottled water is also set to rise. Lebanese have long stopped drinking tap water due to alleged contamination.
A number of buyers say they have recently received SMS messages from suppliers of bottled water informing them that they will increase prices of their products due to economic problems.
Experts are now warning the country is at risk of famine, a prediction that is quickly becoming a reality in many households.
“The Lebanese are facing a dark future. Hunger is knocking on everyone’s door,” said Emily Nassar, a housewife in Beirut.