Lebanon’s economic crisis, compounded by but not rooted in the coronavirus lockdown, means many people can no longer afford foodby Lizzie Porter / May 13, 2020 / Leave a comment
Behind a rough metal door, and rows of washing hanging up to dry, Fatima Khaled Al-Saad sits on a sagging grey sofa and leans forward to speak.
“The way people have started to think is, ‘what am I going to eat today?’” she says. Her 13-year-old son Abdallah was diagnosed with a brain tumour five years ago, forcing his mother to give up work as a teacher. Frail, he now lies underneath a mosquito net next to her. The only motion is the flicker of his long eyelashes and the occasional glance at the blaring television.
Life has long been difficult in the Shatila Palestinian refugee camp in south Beirut, where Fatima lives down a narrow side street draped with cobweb-like electricity wires. Poverty, poor job prospects and violence—armed skirmishes and domestic abuse—are facts of life.
But Lebanon’s biggest financial and economic crisis since the 1975-1990 civil war, compounded by the coronavirus lockdown, means that life has become even tougher.
Fatima is now struggling with a sharp increase in the price of basic items for Abdallah. The nappies he needs to wear used to cost 7,000 LBP a packet ($4.66 at the official exchange rate) but in the past few months have more than doubled to 15,000 LBP ($10). Affording food is becoming more and more difficult, too.
“Today I’ve gotten hold of cabbage. Meat has become very expensive, so I buy half a kilo and split it up to make it last,” she says, explaining how she will boil the greens and rice for her evening meal. “My sister and I once went to a shop and she bought grilled chicken. It was 15,000 LBP. I said, ‘I can’t buy it—my son’s nappies are the priority.’”
The Lebanese lira has lost more than half of its value against the US dollar since mid-2019. In a country reliant on imports, that explains the steep price rises, which come as bankruptcies and layoffs multiply at an alarming rate. Some 220,000 private sector jobs were lost between October 2019 and February 2020, according to one survey.
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