As Lebanon’s Crisis Deepens, Lines for Fuel Grow, Food and Medicine Are Scarce

The Lebanese capital, Beirut — Lynn Husami, 23, was sitting in the sun in her Mini Cooper as she made her way through a huge line of automobiles to obtain gas. She talked on the phone with her thesis advisor, called an old buddy, and played video games on her Nintendo Switch.

Despite her best efforts, she had yet to arrive at the station and was drenched in sweat. It wasn’t an option because she didn’t want to jeopardise her position in line.

“There’s no hope for me. I’m infuriated. I am frustrated,” she remarked, expressing what many Lebanese feel about the financial meltdown, which has turned everyday tasks like grocery shopping into stressful ordeals that have emptied their pockets. There is nothing that can be done to stop it from getting worse.” All of this is beyond my comprehension.

Financial Crisis

Lebanese living standards are being impacted by a financial crisis that could be one of the most severe ever seen in the globe. Since the fall of 2019, its currency has lost almost 90% of its value, resulting in a spike in unemployment as a result of business closures. The availability of imported items has decreased.

The pandemic and the Beirut port explosion over a year ago, which killed about 200 people and severely devastated the capital, have exacerbated an already dire situation.

Fuel Crisis

Many Lebanese now spend their days sweltering through frequent blackouts and waiting in fuel lines that stretch around city blocks to look for medicines that have vanished from stores, creating a strong sensation that the country is tearing apart.

By the end of last year, the country’s GDP had fallen by approximately 40 percent, from $55 billion in 2018, the year before the financial crisis began, according to the World Bank. Per capita income likewise decreased by nearly the same percentage, leaving more than half of the population in poverty.

When it comes to severe economic contractions, the World Bank says they are usually “associated with conflicts or wars,” but in Lebanon’s case, the government’s massive deficit spending and unsustainable monetary policies led to a collapse that left the banks insolvent and the currency’s value plummeting.

A whack-a-mole approach to resolving the country’s economic woes has thus far failed to provide a long-term solution. The country’s fractured political system has thus far failed to give more than whack-a-mole remedies.

However, it’s not yet clear how the programme will be implemented or how the state will be reimbursed for the $556 million investment.

After the explosion in the Beirut port, the present cabinet resigned nearly a year ago. While the country’s political parties argue over the composition of a new government, it continues to act in a caretaker capacity, which its members claim does not give them the right to make broad policy choices.

“System of Corruption”

Hassan Diab blamed Lebanon’s many problems on a “system of corruption” that is not only “deeply rooted in all the functions of the state,” but is in fact “bigger than the state” and so powerful that the state “cannot confront it or get rid of it,” he said in announcing the resignation of his cabinet last August.

Lebanese have had to adjust in painful ways as the crisis has progressed, including climbing stairs because elevators lack power, cutting less on meat or skipping meals as the cost of food has increased, and expending enormous amounts of time each day to keep their automobiles running.

In order to conserve as much fuel as possible, Saad al-Din Dimasi, 45, had left his car in neutral and was pushing it through a long line at a Beirut gas station. He had taken a break from his job at a local shoe firm to acquire petrol, but he had waited in line for so long that he was now too late to return to the office.

In an effort to stay cool, he had taken off his grey hair and slacks and was only wearing a white tank top. But he had more pressing concerns to deal with as he arrived at the pump.

He could only afford a few more hours of electricity per day from a private generator, which would be insufficient to get him through the humid summer nights.

It was his observation that insects and the heat arrive as soon as the AC is turned off.

When his monthly pay of 1.2 million Lebanese pounds, which had been about $800 before the crisis, was suddenly worth less than $80, he was worn out at work.

Emotions were running high as he talked about the financial strain being put on his wife and two teenage daughters.

His response to not being able to offer his son what he begs for was, “I can’t handle it,” he said.

A 70-year-old taxi driver was frightened of having to pay for car repairs he couldn’t afford; an electrical engineer who had studied in the Soviet Union was enraged that she now had to wait in fuel lines in her own country. All of the others in line shared similar concerns.

As soon as they can, those with foreign passports and valuable talents are fleeing the nation in droves.

With a pharmacy job at a private hospital and a teaching position at a university in Beirut, Ahmed al-Aweineh, 31, was on his way to a comfortable existence until the crisis hit.

He arrived at the gas station at daybreak on a recent morning and waited in line for four hours, which caused him to miss work.

In the past, he added, his pharmacy had never run out of blood pressure meds or painkillers or antibiotics.

His compensation would be 10 times greater and he wouldn’t have to wait to fill his tank, so he took a new job in the United Arab Emirates.

I’m employed and have an academic position, but here is a place where you can’t live, he added.

Because of the currency collapse, imports of drugs have become more expensive for dealers, and the central bank’s subsidy payments to keep medications flowing have been delayed, resulting in shortages.

There were several people outside a Beirut pharmacy on a recent afternoon who had been looking for medications for their loved ones, including a mother who was looking for acne medication for one of her sons and a bank manager who was looking for the five medications his doctor had prescribed for his sister, who has Covid-19.

Last Words

Only two of the five medications prescribed by his doctor to alleviate the nightly cluster headaches that kept Elie Khoury, 48, awake at another drugstore, according to Mr. Khoury.

Because his car was running short on gas, he had only inquired at pharmacies within walking distance of the clothing business he worked at. As for the pills, he was concerned that they would be out of stock by the time he got there.

In the event that I don’t discover them, I’ll have to live with the consequences.”

Hwaida Saad contributed to the story by providing research and writing assistance.