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Lebanon’s economy has been steadily crashing for nearly a year, well before the first cases of COVID-19 arrived.
But a strict lockdown, coupled with an already inflating currency, has drastically accelerated the economic meltdown and left many Lebanese and Syrian refugees barely able to make ends meet.
“Corona isn’t scary. What’s scary is that the dollar is fluctuating and a poor person can’t afford to buy anything,” said Haji Abbas Obied, a resident of Bar Elias, a town in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley.
Obied is among nearly half of the population that’s now living below the poverty line. As food prices soar and businesses shut down, her family struggles to afford groceries and medicine. Some even time their grocery purchases when the currency is down.
“When I came to buy groceries, I was shocked by the prices. Prices have more than doubled. Some prices have tripled, unfortunately,” said Rawda Mazloum, who fled from Syria to Lebanon in 2014.
Aid agencies and community groups have stepped in with food and cash support programs. But they’re only a band-aid for a national crisis that has outraged the entire country. Nationwide protests broke out in June after the value of the Lebanese lira hit a record low on the black market.
Many demonstrators blocked roads to bring the country to a standstill and call out their government and banks for years of corrupt practices that have contributed to Lebanon becoming the world’s third most indebted country.
With the lira down 80% of its value since October, Lebanon has begun bailout talks with the International Monetary Fund in May. But disagreement around the scale of financial losses have dragged negotiations.
Cover image: Haji Abbas Obied opens her nearly empty fridge in Bar Elias, Lebanon, saying that it’s all she has to feed her family of six. (Michael Downey/VICE News)