“No food in the fridge”: a grueling Ramadan in Lebanon | Business and economic news

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Beirut, Lebanon – Over the past decade, Sawa For Development and Aid has delivered evening iftar meals to around 4,000 families breaking the daily fast during Ramadan in the Bekaa Valley, eastern Lebanon.
But this year, the NGO’s bustling kitchen had to work tirelessly, cooking for at least 7,000 Syrian and Lebanese refugee families.

“This year is a little different,” Doha Adi, the NGO’s program manager, told Al Jazeera with a sigh.

“We provide hot meals for areas away from our kitchen [in the Bekaa Valley], delivering food packages to homes in Beirut and Tripoli – we never thought we would have to intervene in Beirut, ”she said.

But it’s not just Syrian refugees and vulnerable Lebanese across the country asking Sawa for development aid and help with this Ramadan’s meals.

“We are contacted by the municipalities of the governorate of Bekaa to support Lebanese households this year,” Adi said.

“They send us lists of vulnerable households, asking if we can support them.”

The Lebanese pound has lost around 90% of its value since the end of 2019 and continues to collapse.

Over the past 18 months, more than half of the Lebanese population has fallen into poverty.

In addition, food prices have skyrocketed even for the most modest household staples.

Lebanon imports most of its products, including food, and food inflation in Lebanon is the highest in the world, according to the United Nations – with food prices climbing above 400 percent.

“What can you get with this?”

Calculations by Nasser Yassin, professor of politics and planning at the American University of Beirut, revealed that a common fattoush salad – made with basic ingredients like lettuce, tomatoes, radishes and parsley – costs $ 210. % more expensive to prepare this year.

Yassin dismissed tabloid speculations that Lebanon could witness a famine, but is still alarmed by the country’s food security crisis and said Lebanese households are likely to switch to a less nutritious and diverse diet. , as many of the country’s 1.5 million Syrian refugees have been coerced. make.

“Instead of eating three times [a day], they ate twice, but mostly they would choose cheaper options, so more carbohydrates, less meat and less protein, ”Yassin said.

Sawa for Development and Aid has so far secured more than $ 12,000 in donations for its Ramadan meal services this year, but the charity has felt the effects of soaring food prices.

Preparing a food package to feed a family for just over a month previously cost them 100,000 Lebanese pounds ($ 66).

“But now what can you get with this?” »Said Adi. “A can of oil, maybe?”

Putting together that same food packaging now costs more than six times as much.

“This year, we added food to our cash assistance program,” Adi said.

“You can literally walk into a home and not find any food in the refrigerator or pantry.”

Grocery stores that have yet to close have seen scuffles break out, as anxious customers argue over subsidized cooking oil, powdered milk and other food items.

Some stores rationed food items to prevent people from hoarding them, but this has not eased tensions. In some cases, the security forces had to intervene.

World Food Program spokesperson Rasha Abou Dargham also told Al Jazeera that an increasing number of people in Lebanon can no longer obtain the necessary amount of food.

“At least 22% of Lebanese, 50% of Syrian refugees and 33% of refugees of other nationalities are currently food insecure,” said Abu Dargham.

“The price of a WFP food basket, the bare minimum for survival, has more than doubled in 2020 and continues to increase in 2021.”

The United Nations agency helps nearly 1.5 million people in Lebanon. That’s about one in six people.

No solution in sight

A source from the Lebanese Economy Ministry, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Al Jazeera that it has done everything possible to respond to the food inflation crisis, including monitoring excessive increases in food prices. prices in supermarkets and vendors who stocked goods.

“We are monitoring on the ground, the consumer protection department of the ministry mobilizing daily,” said the source. “But we don’t have enough inspectors to maximize our efficiency.”

The source added that the ministry had tried to push the government to implement antitrust laws – to prevent monopolies and promote a more diverse market – but to no avail.

The Lebanese government is currently operating as a guard, following the resignation of Prime Minister Hassan Diab last August.

President Michel Aoun and Prime Minister designate Saad Hariri remain at odds, with no new government formation on the horizon.

Economy Minister Raoul Nehme introduced subsidies on a wide range of staple foods in May 2020. But that could end soon, as Lebanon also prepares to lift subsidies on fuel, flour and vegetables. drugs.

“Food subsidies have never been the answer,” the economy ministry source told Al Jazeera.

“We need a holistic plan to deal with the whole subsidy problem, and the minister has been pushing for it.

Overcoming Lebanon’s devastating economic crisis will not be easy, especially in a country ruled by a notoriously corrupt ruling class.

But in the meantime, Adi said organizations like Sawa for Development and Aid hope to comfort families with iftar meals reminiscent of life before the economic devastation.

“The cuisine of Ramadan is something the community anticipates,” she said, “and it rekindles the spirit of Ramadan which is essential for the well-being of the community, for solidarity, for staying connected to our culture and the roots of our country of origin. ”

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