Beirut, Lebanon – Over the past decade, Sawa For Development and Aid has delivered iftar evening meals to about 4,000 families who break their fast every day during Ramadan in the Bekaa Valley east of Lebanon.
But this year the NGO’s busy kitchen has had to work non-stop, cooking for at least 7,000 Syrian refugees and Lebanese families.
“This year is a little different,” Doha Adi, NGO program manager, told Al Jazeera with a sigh.
“We provide hot food to areas far from our kitchens [in the Bekaa Valley], sending food parcels to homes in Beirut and Tripoli – we never thought we should intervene in Beirut, ”he said.
But it’s not just Syrian refugees and vulnerable Lebanese across the country who are asking Sawa for Development and Aid to eat this Ramadan.
“We are being contacted by cities in Bekaa Governorate to support Lebanese households this year,” Adi said.
“They sent us lists of vulnerable households, asking if we could support them.”
The Lebanese pound is gone about 90 percent value since late 2019 and continues to decline.
Over the past 18 months, more than half of Lebanon’s population has fallen into poverty.
In addition, food prices have skyrocketed – for even the simplest basic household needs.
Lebanon imports most of its goods, including food, and food inflation in Lebanon is the highest in the world, according to the United Nations – as food prices soar. above 400 percent.
‘What can you get with that?’
Calculations by Nasser Yassin, professor of policy and planning at the American University of Beirut, have revealed that a common fattoush salad – consisting of ingredients such as lettuce, tomato, radish and parsley – is 210 percent more expensive to prepare this year.
Yassin has dismissed tabloid speculation that Lebanon could witness famine, but is still concerned about the country’s food security crisis and said Lebanese households are likely to switch to a less nutritious and diverse diet, as many of the country’s 1.5 million Syrian refugees have already forced. To do.
“Instead of eating three times [a day], they will eat twice, but most of them will choose the cheaper option, so more carbohydrates, less meat and protein, “said Yassin.
Sawa for Development and Aid has so far raised more than $ 12,000 in donations for this year’s Ramadan food service, but the charity has been feeling the effects of high food prices.
Preparing food parcels to feed a family for over a month usually costs 100,000 Lebanese pounds ($ 66).
“But now, what can you get with that?” Adi said. “A can of oil, maybe?”
Assembling the same food package now costs more than six times as much.
“This year, we are adding food supplies to our cash transfer program,” said Adi.
“You literally can go into a house and not find food in the refrigerator or in the kitchen.”
An unclosed grocery store has seen the commotion break out, as anxious customers quarrel over subsidized cooking oil, powdered milk and other foods.
Some shops have provided food rations to stop people hoarding, but that has not eased tensions. In some cases, the security forces had to intervene.
World Food Program spokeswoman Rasha Abou Dargham also told Al Jazeera that more and more people in Lebanon were no longer able to secure the necessary amount of food.
“At least 22 percent of Lebanese citizens, 50 percent of Syrian refugees, and 33 percent of refugees from other countries are currently experiencing food insecurity,” said Abou Dargham.
“The price of a WFP food basket, at least for survival, has more than doubled in 2020 and continues to increase in 2021.”
The UN agency assists nearly 1.5 million people in Lebanon. That’s about one in six people.
There is no solution in sight
A source from Lebanon’s economy ministry, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Al Jazeera that it was doing all it could to respond to the food inflation crisis, including monitoring excessive price increases at supermarkets and suppliers stockpiling goods.
“We are monitoring on the ground, with the ministry’s Consumer Protection Directorate mobilizing every day,” said the source. “But we don’t have enough supervisors to maximize our effectiveness.”
The source added that the ministry had tried to push the government to implement antitrust laws – to prevent monopolies and promote a more diverse market – but with no success.
The Lebanese government is currently operating in a governing capacity after Prime Minister Hassan Diab stepped down last August.
President Michel Aoun and Prime Minister-appoint Saad Hariri remain at loggerheads, without the formation of a new government in sight.
Economy Minister Raoul Nehme introduced subsidies for various types of staple foods in May 2020. But that may end soon, as Lebanon is also preparing to remove subsidies for fuel, flour and medicines.
“Food subsidies have never been the solution,” an economics ministry source told Al Jazeera.
“We need a holistic plan to solve the whole subsidy problem, and the minister has lobbied for this.”
Overcoming Lebanon’s devastating economic crisis is no small feat, especially in a country ruled by famous people the corrupt ruling class.
Meanwhile, Adi said organizations like Sawa for Development and Aid hope to entertain families with iftar meals that remind us of life before the economic crash.
“The Ramadan kitchen is something that the community anticipates,” he said, “and it revives the spirit of Ramadan which is essential for community well-being, for solidarity, to stay connected to the culture and roots of our home country.”