AUGUST 1, 2022
In bankrupt Lebanon, Khalil Mansour has to queue for hours every day just to buy bread for his family and some days he can’t afford any.
In a country which once boasted the nickname “Switzerland of the Middle East” for its thriving banking sector before financial crisis hit in 2019, the chronic shortage of the staple of the Lebanese diet has been hard to take.
Lebanon defaulted on its national debt in 2020 and its currency has lost around 90 percent of its black market value. The World Bank has branded the financial crisis one of the worst since the 19th century while the United Nations now considers four out five Lebanese to be living under the poverty line.
Faced with demands from international creditors for painful reforms in return for the release of new aid, the embattled government has been forced to end subsidies on most essential goods — although not so far on wheat. The price of subsidised bread has gone up, although by less than if there were no subsidy, but bakeries have started rationing the staple. A bag of flat Arabic pitta-like bread now officially sells for 13,000 Lebanese pounds (43 US cents).
On the black market it costs more than 30,000. “Last week I went without bread for three days because I cannot afford to pay 30,000,” said Mansour, 48.
For Mansour and most Lebanese, buying bread means standing for hours in long queues outside bakeries and sometimes, when their turn comes, the bakeries have run out of bread.
As Lebanon crisis spirals, families barter for food on Facebook
Crowds queue at a local bakery in Beirut, Lebanon on June 27, 2020 [Hasan Shaaban/Twitter]July 7, 2020 at 8:44 pm
One Lebanese woman asked for sugar, milk, and soap in exchange for a child’s dress. Another wanted canned goods in return for gym equipment.
A 65-year-old seamstress now exchanges her sewing services for food, because her clients can no longer afford to pay her.
Bartering on Facebook has become the last resort for some people in Lebanon, where a financial meltdown has sent prices skyrocketing this year.
It’s a good thing for people who are in need and unable to buy…You can’t keep asking for help,
said Siham, a 27-year-old mother who was offering a machine that cleans her son’s nursing bottles in exchange for food.
More and more Lebanese have had to turn to charities or private initiatives to survive as the country faces a crisis on an unprecedented scale.
The collapse of the currency, which wiped out nearly 80% of its value, has pushed many families into poverty and the heavily indebted state offers little help.
Hassan Hasna’s Facebook group “Lebanon barters” has gained more than 16,000 members in about a month, with people relying on it to secure food or medicine they can no longer afford.
“A group of my friends and I were able to help some families around Christmas time but now we can’t even get enough supplies to donate,” he said.
Lebanon depends heavily on imported goods for which prices have soared. The government has also hiked the price of subsidised bread, sparking protests this month.
A World Food Programme report in June found that 50% of Lebanese feared they would not have enough to eat.
Hasna gets over 200 requests a day.
“Some people perceive bartering as a terrible thing, using it to explain how desperate we are. But I don’t see it that way,” he said.
“Times are difficult but we won’t go begging for aid. They’re doing the impossible to survive, and live with dignity.”