RTL Today – Financial crisis: Lebanese line up to buy bread

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In bankrupt Lebanon, Khalil Mansour has to queue for hours every day just to buy bread for his family and some days he can’t afford it.

In a country that once boasted the nickname “Switzerland of the Middle East” for its thriving banking sector before the financial crisis hit in 2019, the chronic shortage of the staple of the Lebanese diet has been difficult to overcome. support.

Lebanon defaulted on its national debt in 2020 and its currency lost around 90% of its value on the black market.

The World Bank has called the financial crisis one of the worst since the 19th century, while the United Nations now considers that four out of five Lebanese live below the poverty line.

Faced with demands from international creditors for painful reforms in return for the release of new aid, the embattled government has been forced to end subsidies on most essential goods – but not yet on wheat.

The price of subsidized bread rose, although less than if there was no subsidy, but bakeries began to ration the staple.

A bag of Arabic pitta-style flatbread now officially sells for 13,000 Lebanese pounds (43 US cents). On the black market, it costs over 30,000.

“Last week I went without bread for three days because I can’t afford 30,000 for it,” said Mansour, 48.

For Mansour and most Lebanese, buying bread means standing for hours in long queues outside bakeries and sometimes, when their turn comes, the bakeries run out of bread.

“Today I stood in line for three hours, yesterday two and a half hours. What next?” Mansour said Friday outside a Beirut bakery.

“I have to feed my family. What else can I do?” asks Mansour, who earns the equivalent of $50 a month working in a pastry shop.

– “Far west” –

Most bakeries limit the sale of bread to one or two bags per customer, and each bag contains six flatbreads.

Subsidized bread is often purchased in large quantities and resold on the black market by unscrupulous dealers.

“Queues have gotten worse over the past two weeks,” said bakery owner Mohammed Mehdi. “We are facing huge shortages.”

The 49-year-old said the baking industry has become like the “Wild West”. “Some customers arrive armed with guns and knives,” he complained.

Lebanese media frequently report fights at bakeries, and even shots fired by customers demanding more bread.

In Taalbaya, eastern Lebanon, a customer burst into a bakery on Tuesday, furious that he could no longer buy bread, according to a report.

The customer jostled an employee and then ransacked the bakery, forcing the army to intervene, he added.

“What’s happening is an insult…and it’s even more difficult than the gasoline shortage” that gripped Lebanon last year, Mehdi said.

– ‘Incentive’ –

Lebanon imports 80% of its wheat from war-torn Ukraine, according to industry figures.

But the country’s ability to store wheat was hit hard when a deadly explosion at the port of Beirut in August 2020 severely damaged the country’s main grain silos.

The government and bakeries shared responsibility for the bread shortage.

Bakeries accuse cash-strapped authorities of not providing enough subsidized flour.

The Economy Ministry denies the allegation and has accused the bakeries of hoarding subsidized flour for use in unsubsidized products such as sweets.

Authorities also say the presence in Lebanon of more than a million refugees from war-torn Syria is partly responsible for Lebanon’s economic collapse.

Some Lebanese have even gone so far as to accuse Syrian refugees of buying subsidized bread to sell on the black market, fueling resentment against the refugees and forcing them to return home.

It has been reported that some bakeries impose separate queues for Lebanese and Syrians.

This prompted the UN refugee agency to express concern.

“Lebanon is witnessing an upsurge in tensions and incitement between different communities, leading to localized violence in the streets, including against refugees,” the UNHCR warned on Friday.

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