The return of the bread queues in Lebanon

“I want to feed my children” is a phrase that Khalil Mansour repeats while waiting in front of an oven to buy a single bundle of bread, in a country where, due to the economic collapse, long lines are repeated to procure basic materials.

In front of a bakery in Beirut, Mansour, 48, tells AFP in sharp tone: “I wait five hours if necessary, I want to feed my children”.

Mansour waited for more than three hours on Friday to get bread and stayed the day before in queue for more than two hours. “What else can I do? I ran three days without bread last week,” she says. For two weeks, the Lebanese flocked to bakeries daily, waiting in long lines to get bags of government-subsidized Arab bread. Waiting times are not without problems that sometimes require a security intervention, while bakeries regulate the quantities they distribute, contenting themselves with one or two packages per person.

The price of a subsidized package of bread, which contains six loaves, is 13,000 Lebanese pounds, or less than a dollar, as it entered in the black market takes place, and the price of a package sometimes exceeds 30,000. Mansour works in a sweet shop, and his salary today does not exceed a million and a half Lebanese pounds, or only about fifty dollars, according to the exchange rate on the black market in a country where prices have soared.

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In the wake of the economic crisis that the World Bank has ranked among the worst in the world since 1850, the local currency has lost more than ninety percent of its value against the dollar. The Central Bank’s ability to support the import of basic necessities, including wheat, fuel and medicine, has declined.

“This is our right”

The Ministry of Economy has raised the prices of Arab bread bags several times over the past two years. The Russian invasion of Ukraine since February has exacerbated the situation with the difficulty of exporting grain, especially since Lebanon imports 80 percent of its needs from Ukraine. Lebanon’s ability to store grain took a hit after part of the sacks in Beirut’s port were cracked by the horrific explosion two years ago. Authorities have been warning for days that parts of it could collapse.

After months, during which the Lebanese spent long hours, sometimes exceeding 12 hours a day, in front of gas stations, the government revoked fuel subsidies until refueling a small automobile it became equivalent to Khalil Mansour’s salary.

Lebanese today fear that the government is also taking steps to remove subsidies to wheat, which risks increasing the price of a bundle of bread, which few can afford, especially since eighty percent of Lebanese are below the threshold of poverty.

On Tuesday, the Lebanese parliament approved a loan deal provided by the World Bank worth $ 150 million to implement the emergency response project to secure grain supplies, but it could only be enough for months. in absence of a clear plan.

In his packed oven, Muhammad Mahdi is busy distributing two bundles of bread to customers one by one, asking them to hurry up so that everyone’s requests can be fulfilled. “The queue scene started sixteen days ago, and there were also problems with weapons and knives,” said Mahdi, 49, adding: “Waiting for bread is more difficult than gasoline, for gasoline you can find an alternative. , walk or take a taxi, but here we are talking about the bite. ” . And he continues: “the citizen feels insulted while he waits”.

Dania Hassan, 22, wanted to spare her father the burden of waiting in front of the oven. “My dad would look for half an hour or move from one bakery to another … but he works from morning until late at night to buy this tie,” she says. “What can I say … it is a great suffering to have bread, which is our right, the least we should have”, she added.

‘Devastating effect on all’

In the wake of the bread crisis, the owners of the mills accuse the competent authorities of not supplying the necessary quantities of subsidized flour, due to the delay of the Bank of Lebanon in opening financial credits and the difficulty of importing, which the Ministry of Economy denies it, accusing some bakeries of storing flour or using it in the manufacture of unsubsidized products such as sweets.

Since the start of the economic crisis, the Lebanese authorities have assumed part of the responsibility for the collapse of more than one million Syrian refugees living in difficult humanitarian conditions after fleeing the war in course in their country.

Lebanon assists from time to time in aimed at increasing hate speech against refugees and calls for their expulsion.

And the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees said Friday in a statement that Lebanon is currently seeing an increase in tension between different groups, in particularly violence against refugees, which leads to an escalation of violence.

He referred to “discriminatory measures based on nationality”, underlining the need for continuous international support to Lebanon “to guarantee access to food security”. And recent reports of the media they said some bakeries are now being distributed only to Lebanese and others have been separated for a long time