‘People will die within months’: Lebanon heads for famine as pandemic accelerates hunger

Hit by its worst economic crisis in modern history, there are fears the country is about to repeat the 1915-18 famine

Mohamad barely looks surprised when his phone vibrates with an update on the devaluation of the Lebanese pound.

“Great, now my salary is worth $60,” the 30-year-old Syrian economics teacher turned refugee said, shaking his head.

In the past week alone, the Lebanese pound has lost over 40 per cent of its value. Millions of people are watching their savings and salaries disappear as food inflation hits nearly 200 per cent.

Mohamad stood in the market in Beirut’s Shatila refugee camp, trying to calculate how much food he could afford for himself, his wife and two children. In the end, he decides on potatoes for dinner: three potatoes sliced up, with half a red pepper and some cucumbers on the side. That would have to be dinner for four.

“Before the dollar crisis, my monthly salary as a freelance accounting assistant would last 15-20 days. Now it’s only enough for five days. I think they will probably make us all leave our jobs at the end of July… my family are already past the minimum that we can survive on. We borrow from the market to eat for the rest of the month.”

Hit by its worst economic crisis in modern history, the Lebanese pound has lost over 80 per cent of its value since October, when nationwide anti-corruption protests began to rock the country. Despite a decades-long peg of 1,500 to the dollar, people now widely use the black market value of the pound as a reference of the currency’s real worth.

According to a recent UN report, by the end of April over half of the country was struggling to put the most basic produce on the table as food prices had risen by 56 per cent since October. Preliminary results show that between mid-March and May, they rose by 50 per cent.

Accelerated by the pandemic, unemployment is soaring, the value of wages are plummeting and prices continue to skyrocket. Lebanon is also host to around 1.5m refugees – the most per capita in the world.

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