Khalil Mansour must stand in line for hours every day to buy food for his family in bankrupt Lebanon, and some days he is unable to do so. Prior to the financial crisis in 2019, Lebanon had the moniker “Switzerland of the Middle East” for its flourishing banking industry, therefore the ongoing shortage of the food staple has been difficult to bear. 2020 saw Lebanon’s sovereign debt default, and since then, the currency has lost about 90 per cent of its value on the illegal market.
The financial crisis has been dubbed one of the worst since the 19th century by the World Bank, and the United Nations currently estimates that four out of every five Lebanese are living below the poverty line. The struggling government has been obliged to withdraw subsidies on the majority of necessities, but not yet on wheat, in response to demands from international creditors for painful reforms in exchange for the release of additional aid. Although less than it would have been without the subsidy, the cost of subsidised bread has increased, and bakers have begun rationing the essential.
Industry statistics show that war-torn Ukraine is the source of 80 per cent of Lebanon’s wheat imports. However, a fatal blast at Beirut port in August 2020 seriously damaged the nation’s primary grain silos, drastically reducing the country’s ability to stockpile wheat.
Currently, as reported by AFP, a package of flat Arabic bread that resembles pitas costs 13,000 Lebanese pounds (43 US cents). It costs over 30,000 on the grey market. Mansour and the majority of Lebanese must wait hours in line outside bakeries to buy bread, and occasionally by the time their turn comes, the bakeries are out of bread. The majority of bakeries only allow one or two bags of bread per customer, and each bag contains six flatbreads. Subsidized bread is sometimes purchased in bulk by dishonest sellers who then resell it on the black market.
(with inputs from agencies)