Lebanese end 2021 with more poverty, no holiday joy

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In the past 12 days, some 190,000 expatriates living abroad, mainly in the Gulf countries and Africa, have returned to Lebanon for the holidays, and many have gone shopping. Photo by Dalal Saoud / UPI

BEIRUT, Lebanon, December 30 (UPI) – The majority of the Lebanese being even more impoverished by the acute economic crisis of the country, the end-of-year festivities are no longer the occasion to celebrate. Celebrating Christmas and the New Year has become a luxury few can afford yet.

The economic and political crisis worsened in 2021, leaving an exhausted population grappling with skyrocketing inflation, 22-hour power outages, soaring fuel and gasoline prices and shortages. drugs.

While the Lebanese pound has lost more than 90% of its value against the US dollar, food prices have jumped 576% since the outbreak of a popular uprising in October 2019.

As it has become more difficult to buy enough food and other essentials, it is out of the question to buy new clothes or toys for children at Christmas.

Tony, a divorced mother with three sons who asked to be identified by his first name, could barely cook a Christmas dinner of a few pieces of chicken, fries and salad.

“It was so depressing and sad. Never in my life have I had to tell my sons how much everyone should eat because we barely have enough food on the table,” she told UPI. This year, she said she could not afford to buy a Yule Log, the traditional Christmas cake.

For two years they haven’t eaten fish, and when the prices of meat and chicken soared, they turned to lentils and chickpeas.

Tony, who works at Arcenciel, a non-governmental organization, earns a monthly salary of 1.8 million Lebanese pounds ($ 66 at the current parallel market rate of LL 27,200 for $ 1) which barely covers their basic needs for 10 days.

Food rationing is essential in order to be able to pay your generator bill, cooking gas and transport. The price of a bottle of cooking gas has jumped to over 330,000 LL ($ 12).

“I can’t buy bananas or chocolate for my youngest son,” Tony said with tears in his eyes. “Christmas this year was like any other day. We live day to day. I don’t even know if tomorrow I will be able to cook a meal for my children.”

A family of four would need LL 2.3 million ($ 84) a month for very basic meals, according to Information International, a Beirut-based research and consulting firm.

The number of poor people has increased dramatically this year. Last September, the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia warned that poverty affects around 74% of the total population and that the poverty rate has doubled from 42% in 2019 to 82% this year. .

The commission said that nearly 4 million people live in multidimensional poverty, representing around 1 million households, of which 77% are Lebanese.

Also this year, charities intervened to maintain the Christmas spirit and bring a little joy to those most affected.

Beit el Baraka, a non-profit organization that has helped more than 226,000 people since its inception in 2019, has continued its tradition of handing out a full Christmas dinner to every family.

“We gave them a traditional Christmas dinner, but not turkey this year, but chicken, with wine, Yule log and toys for the children,” Maya Ibrahimchah, founder and president of UPI, told UPI. Beitel Baraka. “There was a feeling of oneness, an incredible solidarity and a lot of emotion.”

Ibrahimchah said very poor people have always existed in the country and have been neglected for many years, even before the recent crisis in the country. She cited the districts of Nabaa and Bourj Hammoud in Beirut as well as the northern city of Tripoli.

“Today we see a new class of poor… people like you and me, who now cannot even afford to buy a packet of bread,” she said. “These people worked hard all their lives, paid their taxes, but ended up losing their savings [in the banks due to the crisis]. It’s scary.”

Donations continue to flow to help Lebanese in dire financial distress in the absence of any government support.

Ibrahimchah explained that the bulk of Beit el Baraka’s donations come largely from Lebanese in the United States, and he hopes to raise up to $ 4 million this year, in addition to $ 10 million “to donate 32,000 pupils in schools “.

The large Lebanese diaspora has also played a vital role in alleviating the suffering of their families in this crisis-ridden country by sending them money and supplies.

In the past 12 days, some 190,000 expatriates living abroad, mainly in the Gulf countries and Africa, have returned for the holidays, according to Pierre Achkar, president of the Association of Lebanese Hotels.

Although they usually stay with their families and not in hotels, they are expected to inject money into the struggling tourism sector by eating in restaurants, frequenting ski resorts and resorts. pubs and attending New Years parties.

Achkar estimated the occupancy rate of Beirut hotels at 40%, while the occupancy rate of ski resorts could reach 70%. Fortunately, it snowed just before Christmas this year, allowing resorts to open and skiers to hit the slopes.

But few foreign tourists show up even though Lebanon has become a cheap destination with the sharp devaluation of its national currency.

“A hotel room that used to cost $ 200 a night is now $ 70,” Achkar told UPI. “But being cheap alone is not an attraction. Our problem is political in the first place, and this has resulted in a state of enmity with the international community and the Arab countries.”

The growing influence of Iran-backed Hezbollah, the country’s instability, and escalating political conflict with Saudi Arabia and some other Gulf countries have driven Western and Gulf tourists away.

“Now that there are no more tourists coming, we should attract Lebanese expatriates to come and spend in their country instead of doing it in London, Paris or Monaco,” said Achkar. “They are our only source of income.

However, fears persist of repeating last year’s ‘doom scenario’, in which coronavirus cases at one point in January hit a record 5,500 per day after rallies and parties over the Christmas holidays. and New Years.

On Wednesday, the Department of Health announced a record 3,153 new cases of COVID-19 and 15 deaths in 24 hours, bringing the total number to 715,950 cases and 9,072 deaths since the outbreak of the virus on February 21, 2020.

No lockdown is currently being considered due to critical economic conditions, Interior Minister Bassam Mawlawi said coronavirus prevention measures for tourist establishments, including restaurants and bars, will be strictly enforced for prevent a dramatic spread of COVID-19. Violators risk penalties and jail.

Suleiman Haroun, president of the Syndicate of Private Hospitals, said 80% of the 400 beds available in intensive care units and 500 isolation beds are full.

“So far, there is no indication that the situation will be worse than last year. A large number of people have been vaccinated, and even if they are infected with the virus, they will not need to be hospitalized or be in the ICU, “Haroun told UPI.

“But if the coronavirus cases increase, Omicron infections spread and people don’t obey the restrictions, we’ll have a problem.”

However, he noted that those who were infected and hospitalized were not vaccinated.

Hospitals in Lebanon are already under strain due to deteriorating economic conditions and the exodus of doctors and nurses, who are leaving the country due to the crisis.

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