'Searching for bread': Lebanon's economic collapse leads to suffering during Ramadan

Hyperinflation in Lebanon leaves millions of people unable to afford even basic iftar meals

Beta V.1.0 - Powered by automated translation

An increasing number of people in Lebanon rely on charities for their iftar meals because of a currency crisis that eroded purchasing power and plunged more than half of the country's population into poverty.

For many Lebanese, Ramadan was a time for families and friends to gather each day for iftar banquets that symbolised Lebanon's rich traditions of hospitality.

But this year is different. The cost of food has almost tripled since the crisis unfolded, with shortages in foreign currencies fuelling hyperinflation and increasing the cost of staple foods.

The average cumulative monthly cost of iftar for a family of five is two-and-a-half times the country's monthly minimum wage, according to a study by the American University of Beirut's Crisis Observatory Unit.

One Beirut resident, who collected food from the Ibad El Rahman NGO to share with her family, told The National: "Without aid, we would become beggars.

“Although my kids have jobs, I still have to get them food because they can’t afford it,” said Mirna El Masri, a 56-year-old homemaker.

With a salary of three-times the minimum wage, Ms El Masri’s family could afford a decent living until late in 2019, when one of the worst financial crises to grip the country in decades unfolded. An 85 per cent drop in the Lebanese pound’s value against the dollar since then has reduced Ms Al Masri’s household income from approximately $1000 to less than $150 dollars today.

“They can now only afford to pay for electricity, water, milk, diapers, and rent. There is nothing left for food,” she said.

People lining up to receive iftar meals at Maedat El Rahman Ramadan tent in Ramlet El Bayda

Local businessman Mahmoud Alwan, 60, who was picking up food for his workers, said: “This year is harder than previous years.”

Beirut’s residents blame the country’s economic woes on the ruling political class.

Political deadlock has hindered the formation of a new government almost eight months after the massive Beirut port explosion toppled Hassan Diab’s Cabinet and caused $15 billion in estimated losses.

 A Lebanese resident filing his bucket with iftar meal at Ibad El Rahman organization distribution point

Since then, Lebanon’s leaders have been bickering over the upcoming cabinet’s composition and regional agenda, leaving the country without a fully-functioning government to enact reforms in exchange for international financial support.

Abo Hamza, 55, a wholesale butcher whose company donates food to the Maedat El Rahman tent to help families struggling to make ends meet, said: “People are hungry, people are feeling miserable…but the government isn’t feeling the people’s pain.

Volunteers at Ghiras NGO preparing iftar meals for pick up.

“They all don’t care about the people. They are the decision-makers but there’s no decision so that people don’t starve,” he said.

Political paralysis and the coronavirus outbreak have compounded Lebanon’s economic crisis.

Concerns of a new wave of Covid-19 infections has prompted many NGOs to make home deliveries.

Ghiras NGO delivering iftar meal to a family in Qasqas neighborhood

But families struggling to stay afloat say charitable donations are no solution.

"People who used to give are now in need," Mona Itani, a member of Ghiras charity group, told The National.

Mr Alwan said the devastating impact of the crisis was now clear to see.

“Some Lebanese families are now digging food from the trash. We are seeing everyday people searching for bread, food, and leftovers to eat,” he said.