BEIRUT (AP) — For the seventh time in a year, Lebanon’s economy ministry announced on Saturday new prices for bread, slowly removing subsidies as the country sinks deeper into a dire economic and political crisis.
The ministry said raising the price was necessary as the national currency continues to slide against the dollar, making imports of basic supplies including fuel and wheat more expensive. The currency, pegged to the dollar for nearly 30 years at 1,500 to the dollar, has lost over 90 percent of its value. It is now trading at nearly 20,000 Lebanese pounds to the dollar.
This is the second price hike this month. The ministry raised the price of a bag of flatbread, a staple in Lebanon, by six percent — making it now sell at 4,000 Lebanese Pounds (or $2.7 at the official rate). The decision also included a new reduction in the size of the bag of bread — this time by five percent.
Lebanon is in the throes of an economic crisis that is bringing regular life to a near halt. Businesses are shutting down, pharmacies have gone on strikes because they can’t secure imported medicines. Fuel shortages have forced hospitals and the country’s only airport to ration their use, shutting down air conditioning and lights in some parts. A marathon for vaccination against COVID-19 scheduled for Saturday and Sunday was postponed because many of the centers that planned to take part had no fuel to operate their generators or internet.
The World Bank has called Lebanon’s crisis one of the worst the world has seen in the past 150 years.
The crisis is made worse by a stifling political deadlock among rival groups who are failing to agree on a new government line-up.
The current government had resigned last year following the massive August blast in Beirut’s port. The government has since operated in a caretaker capacity — which doesn’t allow it to continue talks with the International Monetary Fund for a bailout.
As the crisis deepens, tempers are fraying. Protesters set up road blocks at major intersections in the capital Beirut to object to the political class’s continued bickering and worsening conditions. At long queues in gas stations, some motorists fired their guns in the air in anger.