Economic crisis severe shortages make Lebanon unlivable. Beirut-Ibrahim Arabs line up for hours a day to buy a gas station for a taxi under the hot summer sun. When he’s not working, the 37-year-old father drives from one Beirut pharmacy to another, looking for the formula for his 7-month-old son.
The baby had severe diarrhea and vomiting, but an unfamiliar brand.
He worries about what will happen if his child is really sick. Hospitals in Lebanon, once one of the best in the region, are struggling with the country’s economic and financial crisis, which has led to daily blackouts lasting for hours, lack of diesel fuel for backup generators, and shortages of medical equipment and drugs.
After suffering endlessly for 20 months, most of Lebanon’s nearly 6 million people are facing a new reality. A day country full of severe shortages, from auto parts to medicines, fuel, and other basic commodities. Arab said on a recent day: “My life has already been hard, and now the gasoline crisis is only making things worse.
To survive, he took a side job at a Beirut grocery store, but his monthly income, calculated in Lebanese pounds, lost 95% of his purchasing power. The crisis, which began at the end of 2019, is rooted in the corruption and mismanagement of the political class after the Civil War, which accumulated debt and did little to encourage local industry, making it almost everything dependent on income.
The Lebanese pound plummeted, banks cracked down on withdrawals and transfers, and hyperinflation ignited.
The liquidity crunch is undermining the government’s ability to provide fuel, electricity, and basic services. Dollar shortages dominate medical supplies and energy imports. The fuel shortage has especially raised fears that the country could be paralyzed. Even the personal generators that the Lebanese have been using for decades have to be turned off for hours to conserve the diesel.
“We are really in Hell,” said Firas Abiad, director of Rafik Hariri University Hospital, leading the country’s coronavirus fight on Twitter. Despite the heatwave, the hospital decided to turn off the air conditioner on Monday, except for the medical department. Electricity cuts affect internet connections in several cities, warns that bakeries may have to close due to fuel shortages.
The situation has become serious in recent weeks as scuffles and shootings have erupted at gas pumps, including the northern city of Tripoli, where the son of the owner of a station has been murdered. Many Lebanese criticize the leaders for their inability to work together to solve the crisis.
The country has been without a government since Prime Minister Hassan Diab resigned days after an explosion in the port of Beirut on August 4, 2020, killed 211 people and injured more than 6,000. The catastrophic explosion was caused by nearly 3,000 tonnes of highly explosive ammonium nitrate that had been improperly stored for many years.
Residents find ways to adapt and cope because they expect the economy to get worse.
To avoid waiting for hours, some pay people to refill their cars. Others pick up their laptops and work along lines that stretch into blocks inside the vehicle, known as the “line of humiliation.” Many depend on relatives and friends abroad to send them medicine and formula. Those who can afford it fly to nearby countries for a day or two to stock up for months.
A man working in the solar energy sector said the business is booming with people tired of decades of government promises to fix Lebanon’s power grid. Last week, Diab approved financing for energy imports at a rate higher than the official exchange rate, effectively reducing fuel subsidies amid worsening shortages.
The move, which took effect on Tuesday, is expected to begin to ease the crisis temporarily, although prices have risen 35%. Some have stocked up on fuel for fear that the price will nearly double, which adds to the scarcity. These price increases will force many people in countries where more than half of the population lives in poverty to bear the cost of fuel.
Others smuggle into neighboring Syria, where there is a fuel crisis and gasoline prices are five times higher than in Lebanon. But it also adds to the lack of Lebanon. The crisis has forced angry residents across the country to block the road to protest. They confiscated several tanker trucks in northern Lebanon and distributed free gasoline to passersby.
Another group seized a truck loaded with milk powder and distributed the contents. “Our business has become a work of mass destruction,” said Ahed Makarem, 24, who works at a gas station in the coastal town of Damour, south of Beirut. As he spoke, hundreds of cars moved slowly along the highway. Dozens of workers turned the stations 12 pumps to fill vehicles and scooters. Drivers were limited to 20 liters (about 5 1/4 gallons).
Makarem said his 13-hour shift starts at 6 a.m. and has little time to eat or sit down. He added that fistfights have occurred in recent weeks as some people have tried to line up and that if the station closes at 7 pm, police must sometimes intervene to keep angry customers waiting in vain.
Many fear that the situation will worsen in the coming months as central bank reserves run low and no solution is seen. On Wednesday, Congress approved a ration card system that pays about half a million poor families about $93 a month for a year. It’s not yet clear how the $566 million projects that aim to replace the subsidy system will be financed.
The taxi driver Arab is preparing for a crisis as the temporary solution disappears and the crisis worsens. He recently had to fix the brakes on his car and his engine needed spare parts. The cost was more than double the monthly minimum wage in Lebanon.