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In Lebanon, Dinner Means Bread and No Meat

In Lebanon, Dinner Means Bread and No Meat

Thursday, 28 May, 2020 - 12:30
FILE PHOTO: Volunteers prepare food for distribution to people in need, amid concerns over the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in the port city of Sidon, southern Lebanon May 27, 2020. REUTERS/Ali Hashisho/File Photo
Asharq Al-Awsat

At a street market in southern Beirut, Lebanese crowd around volunteers handing out free rations of bread and pasta, staples that have become a lifeline to families whose living standards have plunged during a financial crisis.

"People can't buy meat or fish anymore. Chicken is getting more expensive. They can only afford vegetables and bread," said Salwa Hable, an organizer helping distribute the privately donated food.

Prices have soared, the result of a dollar crunch that has sunk the local currency since October and eviscerated purchasing power.

"It's going to soon turn into hunger protests," Reuters quoted Hable as saying.

Last month protesters defying a coronavirus curfew rioted, burning banks and leaving a demonstrator dead.

Prime Minister Hassan Diab said last week the double-blow of the financial meltdown and coronavirus pandemic could tip Lebanon into a full-blown food crisis as basics like bread become unaffordable.

People are eating less, with butchers complaining of shrinking sales, restaurants empty, and families making do with simple carbohydrates - even during the holy month of Ramadan, typically a time of nightly feasts.

"We stopped buying fruits for ourselves. We get something small for my daughter, but that's it," said George Ortass, 46, a taxi driver.

At a Beirut market, fish seller Noureddine Mhaysa said his sales have dipped 75% as his prices have more than doubled.

"You used to see overcrowding at the market, with people buying food, clothes, sweets. Ramadan has passed, and no one bought anything - no sweets, no clothes, no food," said Mhaysa.

Lebanon defaulted on its sovereign debt in March and has entered talks with the International Monetary Fund. Beirut hopes an economic reform plan will draw billions of dollars in financing to re-launch its economy, but the near-term austerity is likely to bring further pain.

Even before the coronavirus lockdown, hundreds of businesses were shuttered and workers laid off. As the government has eased restrictions, many businesses have remained shut anyway, the rising dollar making costs too expensive at a time when customers are scant.

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