Lebanon Faces Medicine Shortages, Stocks Won’t Last More than a Month

A man counts US dollar banknotes next to Lebanese pounds at a currency exchange shop in Beirut, Lebanon April 24, 2020. (Reuters)
A man counts US dollar banknotes next to Lebanese pounds at a currency exchange shop in Beirut, Lebanon April 24, 2020. (Reuters)
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Lebanon Faces Medicine Shortages, Stocks Won’t Last More than a Month

A man counts US dollar banknotes next to Lebanese pounds at a currency exchange shop in Beirut, Lebanon April 24, 2020. (Reuters)
A man counts US dollar banknotes next to Lebanese pounds at a currency exchange shop in Beirut, Lebanon April 24, 2020. (Reuters)

Since March, the Lebanese have been suffering from the shortage of a number of medicines, especially those for chronic diseases, for intermittent periods that used to reach 15 days.

Today, obtaining some medications requires a tour of a number of pharmacies and promises to secure them after periods that may exceed a month.

“This is due to some citizens resorting to stockpiling medicine for fear of interruption or increase of prices in the event that Lebanon’s Central Bank stops subsidizing this sector,” Mahdi, the manager of a pharmacy in Beirut, told Asharq Al-Awsat.

The Central Bank, which provides credit lines to importers of wheat, fuel and medicine, at the official dollar rate, which is still fixed at LBP 1,515, announced that at the end of 2020, it would no longer be able to continue to subsidize these materials in light of the shrinking reserves of foreign currencies.

Mahdi asserts that in June and July, many customers “have sought to buy stocks for a whole year.”

Some pharmacies “used to provide the patient with the quantities he requested, but the distributing companies recently determined the quantities that they give to each pharmacy based on its usual monthly need,” he noted.

The head of the Pharmacists Syndicate, Ghassan Al-Amin, told Asharq Al-Awsat that the panic caused by the Central Bank’s announcement of its inability to continue subsidizing fuel, wheat and medicine after the end of 2020 prompted the Lebanese to stockpile medications, especially since they know that lifting the subsidy means that the drug price will be linked to the dollar valuation in the black market.

The prices will increase by five, based on the current dollar exchange rate in the black market, according to Al-Amin.

He noted that the problem further worsened “with the slow import movement due to the Central Bank’s mechanism to open credit lines for importers based on the official exchange rate.”

Al-Amin stressed that the stock of medicine in warehouses, which used to last for six months, is now insufficient for more than one and a half months, warning of a real disaster that will affect the citizens after the subsidy is lifted.



Climate Change Imperils Drought-Stricken Morocco’s Cereal Farmers and Its Food Supply

 A farmer works in a wheat field on the outskirts of Kenitra, Morocco, Friday, June 21, 2024. (AP)
A farmer works in a wheat field on the outskirts of Kenitra, Morocco, Friday, June 21, 2024. (AP)
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Climate Change Imperils Drought-Stricken Morocco’s Cereal Farmers and Its Food Supply

 A farmer works in a wheat field on the outskirts of Kenitra, Morocco, Friday, June 21, 2024. (AP)
A farmer works in a wheat field on the outskirts of Kenitra, Morocco, Friday, June 21, 2024. (AP)

Golden fields of wheat no longer produce the bounty they once did in Morocco. A six-year drought has imperiled the country's entire agriculture sector, including farmers who grow cereals and grains used to feed humans and livestock.

The North African nation projects this year's harvest will be smaller than last year in both volume and acreage, putting farmers out of work and requiring more imports and government subsidies to prevent the price of staples like flour from rising for everyday consumers.

"In the past, we used to have a bounty — a lot of wheat. But during the last seven or eight years, the harvest has been very low because of the drought," said Al Housni Belhoussni, a small-scale farmer who has long tilled fields outside of the city of Kenitra.

Belhoussni's plight is familiar to grain farmers throughout the world confronting a hotter and drier future. Climate change is imperiling the food supply and shrinking the annual yields of cereals that dominate diets around the world — wheat, rice, maize and barley.

In North Africa, among the regions thought of as most vulnerable to climate change, delays to annual rains and inconsistent weather patterns have pushed the growing season later in the year and made planning difficult for farmers.

In Morocco, where cereals account for most of the farmed land and agriculture employs the majority of workers in rural regions, the drought is wreaking havoc and touching off major changes that will transform the makeup of the economy. It has forced some to leave their fields fallow. It has also made the areas they do elect to cultivate less productive, producing far fewer sacks of wheat to sell than they once did.

In response, the government has announced restrictions on water use in urban areas — including on public baths and car washes — and in rural ones, where water going to farms has been rationed.

"The late rains during the autumn season affected the agriculture campaign. This year, only the spring rains, especially during the month of March, managed to rescue the crops," said Abdelkrim Naaman, the chairman of Nalsya. The organization has advised farmers on seeding, irrigation and drought mitigation as less rain falls and less water flows through Morocco's rivers.

The Agriculture Ministry estimates that this year's wheat harvest will yield roughly 3.4 million tons (3.1 billion kilograms), far less than last year's 6.1 million tons (5.5 billion kilograms) — a yield that was still considered low. The amount of land seeded has dramatically shrunk as well, from 14,170 square miles (36,700 square kilometers) to 9,540 square miles (24,700 square kilometers).

Such a drop constitutes a crisis, said Driss Aissaoui, an analyst and former member of the Moroccan Ministry for Agriculture.

"When we say crisis, this means that you have to import more," he said. "We are in a country where drought has become a structural issue."

Leaning more on imports means the government will have to continue subsidizing prices to ensure households and livestock farmers can afford dietary staples for their families and flocks, said Rachid Benali, the chairman of the farming lobby COMADER.

The country imported nearly 2.5 million tons of common wheat between January and June. However, such a solution may have an expiration date, particularly because Morocco's primary source of wheat, France, is facing shrinking harvests as well.

The United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization ranked Morocco as the world's sixth-largest wheat importer this year, between Türkiye and Bangladesh, which both have much bigger populations.

"Morocco has known droughts like this and in some cases known droughts that las longer than 10 years. But the problem, this time especially, is climate change," Benali said.