Beirut, Lebanon For the past decade, Sawa For Development and Aid has provided evening iftar meals to approximately 4,000 vegetarian families daily during Ramadan in the Bekaa Valley of eastern Lebanon.
But this year, the NGO’s busy kitchen has been working non-stop, cooking for at least 7,000 Syrian and Lebanese refugee families.
“This year is a little different,” Doha Adi, the NGO’s program director, told Al Jazeera with a sigh.
“We are delivering hot meals to areas away from our kitchens [in the Bekaa Valley], delivering food parcels to homes in Beirut and Tripoli – we never thought we would have to interfere in Beirut, ”she said.
But it’s not just Syrian refugees and vulnerable Lebanese across the country asking Sawa Development and Support for meals this Ramadan this month.
“We are being contacted by cities under the Bekaa Government to support Lebanese households this year,” Adi said.
“They are sending us a list of vulnerable households, asking if we can support them.”
The Lebanese pound has depreciated about 90 percent valid from the end of 2019 and continuing to decrease.
Over the past 18 months, more than half of Lebanon’s population has fallen into poverty.
On top of that, food prices have risen dramatically – even for the most modest household essentials.
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 have soared. over 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 regular fatty salad – includes basic ingredients like lettuce, tomatoes, radish and parsley – 210% more expensive to prepare this year.
Yassin rejected tabloid speculation that Lebanon might witness a famine, but remains concerned about the country’s food security crisis and said Lebanese households are likely to switch to The diet is less nutritious and varied, as many of the country’s 1.5 million Syrian refugees have been forced to do so.
“Instead of eating three times [a day], they’ll eat twice as much, but mostly they’ll go for cheaper options, so more carbs, less meat and protein, ”says Yassin.
Sawa for Development and Aid has so far raised more than $ 12,000 for its Ramadan meal offerings this year, but the charity has felt the impact of rising food prices.
Preparing a food package to feed a family for just over a month has cost them 100,000 Lebanese pounds ($ 66).
“But now, what can you get with that?” Adi said. “A can of oil, maybe?”
Assembling that same food package now costs six times more.
“This year, we added food supplies to our cash aid program,” says Adi.
“You can literally go into a household and find nothing in the refrigerator or in the pantry.”
Groceries that had not yet closed were clashed as customers worried about cooking oil, powdered milk and other food products being subsidized.
Some stores have broken down food items to keep people from stocking up, but that doesn’t relieve the stress. In some cases, security forces had to intervene.
World Food Program spokesperson Rasha Abou Dargham also told Al Jazeera that more and more people in Lebanon are no longer securing enough food.
“At least 22% of Lebanese, 50% of Syrian refugees and 33% of refugees of other nationalities are suffering from food insecurity,” Abou Dargham said.
“The price of a WFP food basket, the minimum in existence, has more than doubled by 2020 and continues to rise in 2021.”
The UN agency is helping nearly 1.5 million people in Lebanon. One in six people.
There is no solution in sight
An unnamed source from the Lebanese Economy Ministry told Al Jazeera that it had done everything it could to deal with the food inflation crisis, including overseeing excessive price hikes at supermarkets and suppliers stock up on goods.
The source said: “We are monitoring in the field, with the Department’s General Department of Consumer Protection mobilizing daily. “But we don’t have enough inspectors to maximize our efficiency.”
The source added that the ministry tried to urge the government to implement antitrust laws – to prevent monopolies and foster a more diverse market – but to no avail.
The Lebanese government is currently active as caretaker, after Prime Minister Hassan Diab resigned last August.
President Michel Aoun and Prime Minister appointed Saad Hariri still contradictory, no new government was formed.
Economy Minister Raoul Nehme launched subsidies on a wide range of basic food items in May 2020. But that could end soon, as Lebanon is also preparing to lift its fuel subsidies. pasta and medicine.
“Food subsidies are never the solution,” an economic ministry source told Al Jazeera.
“We need a master plan to address the issue of subsidies in general, and the Minister has lobbied for this.”
Overcoming Lebanon’s devastating economic crisis will be no small feat, especially in a country ruled by rotten rulers.
But in the meantime, Adi said organizations like Sawa for Development and Aid hope to comfort families with iftar meals reminiscent of life in the face of economic devastation.
“The Ramadan Kitchen is what the community looks forward to, and it revives the spirit of Ramadan, which is essential for the well-being of the community, for unity, to maintain a connection with culture and roots,” she said. the source of our country. “