Acute hunger is set to soar in Lebanon amid runaway inflation and currency depreciation, the United Nations said.
Factors like conflict, Covid19, and constrained access to humanitarian aid are key behind the projected rise in acute food insecurity in 20 countries between March and July 2021, a new report by the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation and World Food Programme found.
Declared a hunger “hotspot”, Lebanon is at risk of steep hunger levels following rapid currency depreciation and skyrocketing inflation in the country.
“The capacity of Lebanon to cope with, and reverse, the effects of multiple political and economic shocks since the end of 2019 has been dwindling,” read the report released on Tuesday.
The deterioration of food security in Lebanon has been prompted by one of the worst economic crises in its history.
Over the past year, the Lebanese pound lost more than 85 per cent of its value at the market exchange rate. Although officially pegged at 1,500 pounds to the US dollar, the currency has reached a record 15,000 pounds on the parallel market. This has eroded people’s ability to access basic goods, including food, shelter, and healthcare.
The enforcement of nationwide Covid-19 measures in Lebanon without providing a safety net for the poor has further worsened the crisis.
More than half of the Lebanese population is trapped in poverty and struggling for necessities, according to the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for West Asia.
The monthly minimum wage shrunk from $450 to less than $50 in recent weeks, leaving residents with insufficient wages to cover rising living costs.
According to the ‘Hunger Hotspots’ report, Lebanon witnessed a 146-per cent year-on-year increase of the inflation rate, with food inflation recorded at a staggering 402 per cent.
Under the weight of Lebanon’s compounding crises, vulnerable groups were left to weather the storm on their own.
Marwan Al Houssami, a middle-aged Lebanese public taxi driver, told The National that the crisis has taken a massive toll on him and his family.
With three mouths to feed at home, Mr Al Houssami relies on a daily income that is often interrupted during lockdown.
“I didn’t work for more than a month during lockdown, I couldn’t bring any money home,” he said. “If it wasn’t for good people pitching in to help us, my family and I would have starved.”
Political deadlock has stalled the formation of a Lebanese government needed to implement political, social, and financial reforms that would unlock millions of dollars in international aid.
Lebanon has been without a functioning government for seven months when Prime Minister Hassan Diab resigned on August 10, following the August 4 Beirut port explosion.
Prime Minister designate Saad Hariri was elected back into power on October 22nd and has yet to form a government that would begin to resolve Lebanon’s hardships.
“Time is our worst enemy. Every passing day counts against Lebanon’s residents,” said Mohammad Ibrahim Fheili, risk strategist and capacity building expert.
In the absence of an effective government and urgent structural reforms, poverty and misery are all expected to rise.
"Political parties are adding to people's misery," Mr. Fheli told The National. "We need change now."