A vegetative Lebanon in Ramadan
During the holy month of Ramadan, the ramifications of the liquidity crisis in Lebanon are more visible. This triggers the question - how are families in Lebanon breaking their fast this year?
The holy month of Ramadan redirected the focus on the magnitude of Lebanon's economic crisis on the people, with many struggling to put together a decent iftar.
Prices skyrocketed in light of the slumping economy, which spiked from 1,500 Lebanese pounds (LBP) to the dollar before the crisis, to a black market rate of about 24,000 LBP this month, after recently dropping to 34,000 LBP.
The Lebanese government has lifted or reduced subsidies on fuel, wheat, medicine, and other basic goods, without implementing any adequate social protection scheme to protect vulnerable residents from the impact of steep price increases.
According to a United Nations report, half of the Lebanese people are impoverished on multiple levels and the poverty levels increased to 82 percent in 2021. The consumption index rose between 2019 and 2021 by 280 percent, and food prices rose by 670 percent.
The cost of staples like grains, meat, and vegetables has skyrocketed - in many cases as a direct result of the Western sanctions imposed on Russia.
No security in a crippled economy
The cost of a simple iftar has increased by more than 100 percent. Preparing a bowl of fattoush (traditional Lebanese salad) that serves five people, increased by 311 percent due to a rise in ingredient prices, including tomatoes, cucumbers, lettuce, and parsley.
Fasting locals are no longer able to enjoy a traditional iftar meal, which includes rich appetizers, meat and chicken dishes, and traditional Ramadan sweets. The estimated minimum spending on food for a family of five is 3.5 million LBP per month, and that's without taking into account the additional cost of water, electricity, or cooking gas.
' We're tired, we have nothing left '
Many Lebanese chose to give up on home to find security elsewhere while only a minority still has hope for a brighter Lebanon. However, some have unwillingly chosen to keep the rope around their necks because they're too tired to keep on fighting.
A man sat beside his infant grandson on the sidewalk facing Beirut's famous Pigeon Rocks. "I just got him from the doctor's office, we paid 1.5 million LBP; his father earns the same amount a month. How are we supposed to live?" he told Al Mayadeen English.
An old lady dragged a suitcase and passed by the Al Mayadeen crew with a drained look on her face. "Where do I start?", adding that "everyone is to blame, they're a group of thieves. How can we break our fast? With what? We're tired, we have nothing left, God be my witness."
"If this was happening in Europe, hell would break loose," a Lebanese expatriate told Al Mayadeen English, adding that, "the silence says a lot about the Lebanese people."
Limited charity in Ramadan
In previous years, the underprivileged population depended on the more privileged portion of the community to provide them with food packages. However, donations received by charities and other aid organizations during Ramadan are expected to fall back, limiting their ability to provide daily iftar meals to an increasing number of people in need.
Charitable organizations are concerned with the amount of support they can still provide. Food packages that were for 40,000 LBP are now up to 500,000 LBP. The costs have increased exponentially due to increases in the prices of gas and other fuels, electricity, disposable plates and packaging, and transportation and distribution.
It is worth noting that families that were already living in poverty are now living below the poverty line and are not receiving the same amount of food packages, which is a charity initiative they depended on to break their fast.
Bread; a leisure food?
Most Lebanese citizens currently make about $40 per month, and according to UNICEF, more than 70 percent of Lebanese families were not able to afford a daily ration of food in 2021. Bread is no longer the poor man's feast.
The Ukraine crisis is jeopardizing the stability of Lebanon's wheat supplies, as Beirut has no other affordable suppliers besides Russia and Ukraine, according to Lebanese Economic and Social Council Director-General Mohammad Seifeddine.
Furthermore, the economist stated that any disruption in supplies from Russia or Ukraine would "undoubtedly" raise bread prices in the country. He also emphasized that other exporting countries, such as the United States and Australia, are far from Lebanon, raising the cost of wheat imports.
A depressed economy
Lebanon has been plagued with an economic crisis when successive governments piled up debt after the country's 1975-1990 civil war. The currency crashed, and the country is currently in a state of paralysis, with the people still struggling to keep their heads above the water.
Lebanon's financial collapse since 2019 is a story of how mismanagement derailed a vision for rebuilding a nation once known for its beauty. But Lebanon had little else to show for a debt equivalent to approximately 150 percent of national output, one of the world's highest debt burdens. Its electricity plants can't even deliver 12 hours of electricity per day and Lebanon's only reliable export is its human capital.
What triggered the collapse?
Before the 2018 election, when the state needed to reign in on spending, politicians splurged on a public sector pay raise. Furthermore, the government's failure to implement reforms pushed foreign donors to withhold billions of money in aid.
The final straw was a proposal to tax WhatsApp calls in October 2019. Imposing a fee on the way most popular communication app in Lebanon was a disaster in a country with a large diaspora and a low tax regime skewed in favor of the wealthy. In response, protests erupted against a political elite led by dissatisfied youth demanding change.
Foreign exchange inflows have since ceased, and dollars have left Lebanon. Banks closed their doors because they no longer had enough dollars to pay depositors queuing outside. In addition, the government defaulted on its foreign debt.
A state on life-support
Reader, the country and its people have been on life-support for a while now. As the country enters a vegetative state, the people are struggling to put food on their tables. During the holy month of Ramadan, fasting Muslims are struggling to prepare a decent Iftar to break their fast.
This year, families are celebrating the holy month without including any traditional norms. Houses are missing the joy of decorations, traditional Ramadan sweets, and Iftar tables rich with appetizers and meat dishes.
As the lira gradually declined against the dollar, coinciding with a severe liquidity crisis, people barely have money for food. At dawn, a large portion of fasting Muslims break their fast on bread and vegetables, ditching the Ramadan Iftar traditions.
The crisis' impact on residents' rights has been catastrophic and unprecedented, however, the Lebanese government provided almost no assistance to families coping with the economic crisis. People are hungry, pockets are empty, and the government remains deaf to the people's desperate calls. Some Lebanese are devoted to keep planting hope in what is now an infertile land. It takes more than seeds of hope to bring the country back to life.