Beirut, Lebanon – Mohammad was sitting in the smallest grocery store where he worked and flipping through the pages of a notebook, filled with a long list of customers indebted to the store.
“More and more people are having money problems and are asking us to let them pay later,” the 30-year-old Syrian refugee from Daraa told Al Jazeera, as growing fuel shortages have driven up the storm. food prices arrow.
âWe have to try to be patient with them. Things got worse with the fuel crisis this summer. “
The small shop is located in the heart of the semi-industrial Karantina district of Beirut, a stone’s throw from the destroyed port.
Many of the store’s shelves were packed, but that’s because people are just focusing on household necessities, Mohammad said.
âSo nobody buys coffee as you can see,â he said, pointing to dozens of jars on the shelves.
“Most people will get bread, veg, and those dairy products out of the fridge over there.”
But even many basic groceries were no longer affordable: he struggled to sell olive oil as its price skyrocketed.
The food crisis in Lebanon is not recent. The World Food Program has estimated that food prices have risen 628% in just two years, exacerbating Lebanon’s economic crisis, which has plunged three-quarters of its population into poverty and devalued the Lebanese pound by around 90 %.
However, the food crisis has worsened considerably in recent months due to fuel shortages and rising prices.
The Lebanese government has gradually lifted fuel subsidies since June and increased gasoline prices four times in less than a month in an effort to deal with crippling shortages. At the same time, he struggled to roll out a cashcard program to replace grants.
Meanwhile, Lebanon has been increasingly hit by protracted power outages, as state-supplied electricity nearly fell to zero, while diesel fuel prices for private generators also soared. soaring – so fuel can even be found in the first place.
âOur food prices are getting more expensive because we have to pay much more to the supplier of private generators to account for the rising fuel prices,â Mohammad said, shaking his head in disbelief.
“And all of our produce in those baskets over there has especially become more expensive, because the guy who delivers it to us from the vegetable market has to pay more for gasoline.”
The Lebanese Economy Ministry announced earlier this week that it had raised the price of bread for the sixth time this year – partly due to the weakening local currency, but also due to the crisis in the country. oil and fuel as transportation costs have skyrocketed.
“Prices of fuel and gasoline continue to rise, so we expect food prices to continue to rise,” World Food Program spokesperson Rasha Abu Dargham told Al Jazeera.
In April, WFP provided food assistance to one in six people. After the worsening of the fuel crisis, they now support one in four people in Lebanon.
Mohammad worked about 10 hours in the store each day for a modest income and a small stipend to buy groceries in the store which comes to just under 900,000 Lebanese pounds ($ 47).
With his salary and the help of charities, he could pretty much pay his rent and other expenses. So he had to compromise on the food he eats and he now skips one meal a day.
According to the UNHCR, he is one of 67% of Syrian refugees in Lebanon who now skip meals.
âI definitely don’t eat meat anymore – that’s out of the question,â Mohammad said. âBut luckily, I can manage without more with two meals a day. “
“We are trying to get yogurts for the children”
Two blocks away, Walaa – who fled Syria to Lebanon about five years ago – has looked after her daughter and three sons in their cramped two-room apartment on the ground floor. The children did not attend school and spent most of their time indoors. Her 12-year-old, the oldest of them, sat quietly watching her siblings. Walaa said he weighed only 17 kilograms.
It was past midday and the children still hadn’t had their breakfast yet. âWe try to make sure the kids have two meals a day,â she said.
Walaa’s husband pruns trees in downtown Beirut, but struggled to work as many hours as before after being injured in the Beirut port explosion more than a year ago. He suffered from multiple bone fractures and a head trauma.
She tried working several days to help out, but the family was behind on rent, and soaring food prices further squeezed their already tight budgets.
âWe now only buy bread, pasta, rice and try to get onions, tomatoes and potatoes whenever possible,â Walaa said. âWe try to provide the kids with yogurt and cheese once or twice a month because they really like it. “
The family had also resorted to tap water as bottled water became increasingly expensive, which Walaa said made the children sick.
Meats and fruits have become unaffordable for the family, but once a month they buy chicken.
âIt’s like a party occasion when this happens,â she said with a sigh. And because of this, she believed that the children were tired and lethargic.
“They get tired when we take short walks.”
“Plunged into poverty”
Impoverished Syrian refugees have been particularly affected by the crisis.
According to the UNHCR, an estimated 90 percent of Syrian refugees in Lebanon now live in extreme poverty – up from 36 percent in the country.
âThis means they cannot afford what we consider basic foodstuffs to survive,â WFP’s Abu Dargham explained. “And that doesn’t include meat or dairy.”
The Lebanese government, now headed by billionaire Prime Minister Najib Mikati, hopes to resume negotiations with the International Monetary Fund for a stimulus package, and receive economic aid from the international community.
Experts said economic recovery could take years, with Lebanon having to root out decades of systematic corruption and restructure an inefficient economy.
Meanwhile, aid organizations and charities struggle to keep up with growing demand, while the Lebanese government remains strapped for cash. The United Nations recently declared that famine could be a “growing reality” for thousands of people.
Abu Dargham said this hunger crisis was “unprecedented”, and also affected hundreds of thousands of Lebanese families who never bothered to put food on the table.
âWe have tripled our aid, but the scale-up is gradual,â she said.
“People who had never had a problem putting food on the table suddenly fell into poverty.”