Soaring fuel prices hit Lebanon, deepening struggle for food and transport

A street is empty after taxis blocked the streets during a protest against rising oil prices in Beirut, Lebanon on Monday. Photo by Nabil Mounzer / EPA-EFE

BEIRUT, Lebanon, October 26 (UPI) – A further surge in fuel prices – spurred by the central bank’s inability to provide hard currency for fuel imports, the national currency plummeting again and rising global oil prices – could cripple Lebanon.

The fuel crisis that peaked during the summer is not over, only increasing the suffering of a population dried up by the severe economic crisis that began in October 2019.

Gasoline prices hit record highs on Wednesday, when the Department of Energy increased the cost of 20 liters (5 gallons) of 95 and 98 octane gasoline by 30%. It now costs 302. 700 Lebanese pounds ($ 14.76) and 312,700 LL ($ 15.25) respectively, compared to an average of 60,000 LL ($ 2.93) in June.

The price of a bottle of cooking gas has jumped to over 280,000 LL ($ 13.65) while a ton of diesel fuel is priced at $ 570, paid in hard currency or the equivalent in Lebanese pounds. at the black market rate. One US dollar is trading at around 20,500 LL.

Diesel fuel is essential to run private generators for homes, hospitals, factories and businesses, as the national power company is unable to provide more than two to four hours of electrical power per day.

Unaffordable food, transportation

Rising fuel prices are also affecting the cost of services, resulting in further increases in food prices and transportation costs that the majority of the population can no longer afford.

Going to work or school has become an ordeal beyond the means of many. As car use has become so expensive, relying on available public transport, mainly provided by taxis or shared taxis (called “service”) and small vans, is no longer a good option. Marlet.

Elham, a 64-year-old housekeeper at a bank in Beirut who refused to give her last name, pays more than a third of her monthly salary of LL 750,000 (about $ 36 at the black market rate) just to go to work.

She lives in Sin el-Fil, a suburb in eastern Beirut, and uses the mini-bus, the cheapest form of transportation available.

“It costs me 16,000 LL [78 cents] per day … and after paying my 500,000 LL [$24] monthly rent, there is nothing left for my other expenses, “Elham told UPI.” How can I live on such a salary? “+

She is one of the lucky ones who received help from a charity, but she is afraid the help will not last. Her married children provide her with a cooked meal every day. However, she still has to buy her blood pressure medication, pay for her generator subscription, cooking gas, and fruit whenever possible.

Carpooling is growing in popularity, especially among students and employees living outside of Beirut. More and more people are using their bikes or motorcycles. Donkeys emerged as an option and replaced the school bus. A widely distributed video on social media in recent days have shown two men and their five children riding two donkeys, allegedly in the eastern Bekaa region, on their way to school.

Catastrophic for workers

Bechara al-Asmar, head of the Lebanese General Confederation of Workers, said rising fuel prices had “catastrophic implications” for the country’s roughly 1 million workers, including 275,000 employed in the public sector.

“These 1 million workers are directly affected by soaring fuel prices,” al-Asmar told UPI, referring to subsequent increases in the prices of bread, essential food items, generator subscriptions, medical services and transports.

He noted that a subscription to a 5 amp generator, barely enough to keep a few lights on and a refrigerator running, now costs LL 1.5 million ($ 73), which means “more than double the salary. minimum of 675,000 LL “($ 33).

Driving within Beirut became a luxury after the one-way shared taxi fare rose to LL 30,000 ($ 1.46). The trip from the city of Tripoli north of Beirut now costs LL 75,000 ($ 3.66). As a result, the number of employees who do not show up for work is increasing.

“The number of absentees, especially among public sector employees, is increasing and significantly affecting public services and therefore government revenues,” al-Asmar said. “Even those who have made it to work are mostly unable to perform their duties properly due to severe power cuts and lack of diesel to power their generators.”

The Lebanese General Confederation of Workers has entered into talks with the government to increase the monthly minimum wage to LL 7 million ($ 341), adjust pay scales and increase transportation allowances. The cash-strapped government is unlikely to be able to meet such demands.

According to al-Asmar, 350,000 workers have been left out of work since the crisis began two years ago. Some 225,000 university graduates have been unable to find employment over the past three years, which has also seen the exodus of some 400,000 people. Sixty percent of the population lives below the poverty line, while 90 percent suffer from “dangerous economic conditions”.

Political consensus needed

Fixing the price of fuel and the exchange rate to the US dollar is a necessity for any solution that “starts with political consensus,” he said, citing “dangerous divisions” among political leaders “almost over everything.” .

Lebanese political leaders, in power since the end of the 1975-90 civil war, have been widely accused of corruption and mismanagement which led to the country’s aggravated crises and the collapse of most sectors of society. . They have remained insensitive to the suffering of the Lebanese people, who are battling hunger and extreme poverty after their national currency has lost more than 90 percent of its value.

“We are heading for more collapses, more poverty and more people emigrate … and so we will see social chaos, popular uprising and anger in the streets,” said economist Elie Yashoui, who blamed the country’s collapse on “very mismanagement” of the monetary, fiscal, investment, public service and infrastructure project policies applied by all successive governments since 1993.

Yashoui said tens of billions of US dollars have been spent in vain on infrastructure projects, such as electricity and water, since the end of the civil war.

“We are facing the highest degree of corruption … Any money that will come from the IMF, estimated at some $ 2 billion, or any other aid will barely make up for the $ 120 billion in bank deposits that have been lost. “he told UPI. of the International Monetary Fund. “An entire population has been robbed … the Lebanese have become hostages to this evil and corrupt political class.”

Lebanon, he said, is under the responsibility of the international community, which should “set up a special tribunal to try these politicians and save the country”.

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