The purchasing power of citizens in Lebanon continues to take a downward trajectory amid an economic crisis that has been ranked among the harshest and most severe crises in the world, with it entering its third year this month, October 2022. In Lebanon, 220 thousand families now live below the poverty line. These families face difficulties in meeting their basic, day-to-day needs, in light of unprecedented inflation in food prices, which puts food security in Lebanon at risk.
"Lebanon is a hunger hotspot." This is what a World Bank report on food security and the impact of inflation on prices concluded, especially in light of the Russian war in Ukraine. According to the report, the Middle East and the Horn of Africa are among the regions most affected by the ongoing war, and Lebanon tops the list of 10 countries, as its Food Consumer Index rose to 216%, the highest rate of food price inflation, surpassing that of Venezuela. The report pointed out that 19% of Lebanon's population faces some kind of food shortage due to the unprecedented rise in prices.
The World Bank report wasn't the only one. Another report by the World Food Organization (FAO) showed that after the economic crisis, Lebanese families began to buy cheaper food items that are of low nutritional quality. The organization warned of the danger of the expansion of malnutrition, especially as poverty rates in Lebanon reached almost 50% in 2022, and families, with their current income, are unable to secure their food needs due to price inflation.
Lebanon's Consumer Food Index rose to 216%, which is the highest rate of food price inflation, surpassing that of Venezuela.
Food is a luxury
"A meal may be a single ingredient, such as oven-grilled potatoes or boiled chickpeas along with the bouillon (stock and seasonings) cube that comes with the food box." This is what Nour explains about her family's daily meal. Beef and chicken have been cut off from their house for about a year and a half. They rely mainly on a food (ration) box they receive on a monthly basis that contains various types of grains and pasta, in addition to aid and assistance from neighbors.
Nour is a housewife who lives in one of the most marginalized areas of Beirut, Hay al-Sellom. There is no monthly salary for her family of 5. Her husband works intermittently in construction. His daily income reaches a maximum of 250 thousand pounds, and there has been no electricity in their house for two years.
"We appreciate the blessing of food, but legumes aren't always a solution for daily meals. We need gas in order to boil them, the price of which has increased dramatically after the subsidies were lifted. Even vegetables have also become a luxury that we cannot secure every day, as well as cooking a full daily meal without missing some ingredients. My husband works intermittently. Sometimes a whole week goes by without work and without any salary," she says.
She adds, "During Ashura, we used to receive many daily meals from the religious feasts and gatherings in the neighborhood and outside it, and in the month of Ramadan as well. We used to rely on these meals to feed our children a full meal with beef and chicken. We've been like this for two years or a little more."
"We appreciate the blessing of food, but legumes aren't always a solution for daily meals. We need gas to boil them, the price of which has increased dramatically after subsidies were lifted. Even vegetables have also become a luxury we cannot secure every day"
Nour has three children. One of them, who is 10 years old, had to work in a foul (beans) restaurant in the neighborhood for a month in the summer, and was paid 100 thousand pounds a day. But he stopped working after his mother feared that he would get pulled into the world of work and labor, and not complete his studies. Nour says, "I see these stories a lot in the neighborhood. Children are leaving school and are starting to work at the age of 10. I don't want this for my son. His future will not be lost because of poverty and he will continue his education with his siblings".
With the onset of winter, the work of Nour's husband also stops, and the family will remain without any income, although she has previously registered on the government platform to obtain the cash subsidy card approved by the Lebanese government in cooperation with the World Bank in 2021 to support the poorest families, so far the family has not received the card.
No meat in two years
Moving on from Beirut to Baissour, where Heba (pseudonym) lives with her family of four, who, like many families, struggle to secure their daily sustenance.
"We had a small restaurant in the village before the economic crisis, but after the crisis and lockdown due to the coronavirus, losses accumulated and we had to close it down. Since then, our lives have turned upside down. We used to go to the supermarket almost every week to buy our week-worth of cooking ingredients, but now we can't afford the needs of a full meal for just one day. We just buy our simple needs that we can secure from the small grocery store close by." With these words Heba describes how their table was affected by the onset of the economic crisis.
The family's breadwinner works on a daily basis in painting houses, but this business does not provide the necessary financial return for a family of six, especially since they live in a small village where there are not many houses to paint. Heba states, "Our main dependance for food is the food box that we get every two months, and also the aid and assistance from the people in the area. Sometimes I share a food ration with my neighbor, which she receives from the World Food Programme (WFP)."
"I'm currently attending a municipality activity in Baissour on 'smart education'. They'll give us 300,000 LBP for attending 20 online sessions. I'm thinking about what I can buy with it. It's a small amount but I may be able to get some oil or flour for the house"
No meat has been in the daily diet of this family for about two years now. Their daily basic meal, according to Heba, is the grains they get from aid, such as boiled rice with spices or pasta with only some sauce.
She adds, "I am currently attending an activity organized by the municipality in Baissour on 'smart education'. They will give us around 300 thousand pounds after attending 20 online sessions. I'm thinking carefully about what (food) I can afford to buy with these 300 thousand pounds. It is a small amount but I may be able to get some oil or flour for the house."
Heba's experience with the cash card is the same as Nour's. She has also registered on the platform but has not yet received the card. The amount a family can get through the cardmay reach $150 ($25 per person), which is a small amount but may provide for the family's basic nutritional needs.
Weakened immune system
The food crisis must have its health effects on the physical health of citizens, and this is what the reports of the World Food Organization (FAO) have warned of. Nutritionist Ghinwa Mahtar explains to Raseef22 that the groups most affected by the food crisis, health-wise, are people from the poorest class, specifically "pregnant women, children, the elderly and those suffering from chronic diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, cholesterol, and clogged arteries."
Diabetics need a diet that includes vegetables, and because of the inability of many to buy these vegetables, their physical health will be affected.
For example, diabetics need a diet that includes vegetables, and because of the inability of many to buy these vegetables, their physical health will be affected, specifically their sugar and cholesterol levels. In addition, as the prices of baked goods with brown flour increased, diabetics began to eat white bread, which has also affected their health, says Mahtar.
She adds, "As for pregnant women, they need high amounts of iron, and also all the available vitamin C, in order to boost their immunity. This vitamin is not only available in grains and legumes such as lentils and the like, but also in vegetables and fruits, and without them the immunity of pregnant women is compromised. The prices of dietary, nutritional supplements have also risen and many pregnant women are unable to purchase them."
As for children, the specialist explained that they mainly need fortified milk, which is not available most of the time in the food rations. She warned against some families resorting to fresh cow's milk as an alternative, because it is not fortified with dietary supplements, and causes a severe iron deficiency, while also containing high amounts of protein. In addition, children living below the poverty line cannot afford to have milk and cheese products, which means they do not eat dairy products at all. They don't eat fruits as well, which will affect their immune system and stunt their growth.
What the nutritionist mentioned shows that the health of citizens living below the poverty line is at risk, and here Mahtar warns, that in the long run and in light of the economic crisis, the number of people with diabetes, cholesterol, and heart diseases will increase, and we may face developmental problems in children.
The specialist provides an example, "Some families cannot afford oil because of its high price, and meat and chicken are replaced by canned margarine." In addition to the fact that this choice of cooking fat is unhealthy, the quality of canned margarine (ghee) currently in the market isn't good, and causes health problems in blood cholesterol levels and may lead to clogged arteries and arterial diseases".