Khalil Mansour repeats the phrase “I want to feed my children” as he waits in front of an oven to buy just one package of bread, in a country where, as a result of the economic collapse, long queues for basic materials are repeated.
Outside a bakery in Beirut, Mansour, 48, told AFP curtly: “I wait five hours if necessary, I want to feed my children.”
Mansour waited for more than three hours on Friday to get bread, and the day before he queued for more than two hours. “What else can I do? I went three days without bread last week,” he says.
For two weeks, Lebanese have been flocking to bakeries daily, waiting in long lines for bags of government-subsidized Arabic bread. Waiting times are not exempt from problems that sometimes require security intervention, while bakeries regulate the quantities they distribute, settling for one or two bundles per person.
The price of a bundle of subsidized bread, containing six loaves, is 13,000 Lebanese pounds, or less than a dollar, while the black market has entered the scene, with the price of a bundle sometimes exceeding 30,000.
Mansour works in a sweet shop, and his salary today is no more than 1.5 million Lebanese pounds, about 50 dollars only, according to the black market exchange rate in a country where prices have skyrocketed.
Mansour says, after more than two hours of waiting, “What else can I do (…) I can’t buy bread for 30,000.”
In the wake of the economic crisis that the World Bank has ranked among the worst in the world since 1850, the local currency lost more than ninety percent of its value against the dollar. The Central Bank’s ability to support the importation of vital commodities, such as wheat, fuel and medicine, has diminished.
The Ministry of Economy has raised the prices of bags of Arabic bread on several occasions during the last two years. The Russian invasion of Ukraine since February has exacerbated the situation with the difficulty of exporting wheat, especially since Lebanon imports eighty percent of its needs from Ukraine.
Lebanon’s ability to store wheat took a serious hit after some of the sacks at the port of Beirut were ruptured in a horrific explosion two years ago. Authorities have been warning for days that parts of it may collapse.
After months, during which Lebanese spent long hours, sometimes exceeding 12 hours a day, in front of gas stations, the government removed fuel subsidies until filling a small car with gasoline became the equivalent of salary. by Khalil Mansour.
The Lebanese today fear that the government will also move to lift subsidies on wheat, which threatens to raise the price of a bundle of bread, something that not many can afford, especially since eighty percent of Lebanese are below of the poverty line.
On Tuesday, the Lebanese parliament approved a $150 million World Bank-provided loan deal to implement the emergency response project to secure wheat supplies, but it may only be enough for months in the absence of a clear plan. .
In his overcrowded oven, Muhammad Mahdi is busy distributing two packages of bread to customers one by one, asking them to hurry up so he can meet everyone’s requests.
Mahdi, 49, says: “Six days ago, the queuing scene started, and there were even problems with guns and knives,” adding: “Waiting for bread is more difficult than gasoline, because gasoline can find a alternatively, you can walk or take a taxi, but here we are talking about the bite.” .
He continues: “The citizen feels humiliated while waiting.”
Dania Hassan, 22, wanted to save her father the burden of waiting in front of the oven. “My father would search for half an hour or move from one oven to another … but he works from morning to night to buy this tie,” she says.
And he adds: “What can I say… It is a great suffering to get bread, which is our right, the least we should get.”
As a result of the bread crisis, the millers accuse the competent authorities of not providing the necessary quantities of subsidized flour, as a consequence of the Bank of Lebanon’s delay in opening financial credits and the difficulty in importing, which the Ministry of Economy, accusing some bakeries of storing flour or using it in the production of non-subsidized products such as sweets.
Since the beginning of the economic crisis, the Lebanese authorities have shouldered some of the responsibility for the collapse of more than a million Syrian refugees living in dire humanitarian conditions after fleeing the ongoing war in their country.
Lebanon witnesses from time to time an increase in hate speech against refugees and calls for their deportation.
And the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees said in a statement on Friday that Lebanon is currently witnessing an increase in tension between different groups, especially violence against refugees, leading to an escalation of violence.
He referred to “discriminatory measures based on nationality”, highlighting the need for continued international support for Lebanon “to ensure access to food security”.
Recently, media reports said that some bakeries now distribute to Lebanese only, and others have separated the queues of Syrians from Lebanese. Many, like Ahmed Saleh, a bakery employee, accuse Syrians of buying subsidized bread and selling it on the black market.
Saleh, 22, says: “The Lebanese have run out of patience and we are young people who cannot make sure.”
And the United Nations High Commissioner stresses that “the economic crisis in Lebanon has a devastating impact on everyone.”