BEIRUT: As Ramadan approaches, shoppers in crisis-ridden Lebanon are jostling for sacks of flour and bottles of cooking oil – with ever-dwindling stocks remaining unreplenished fueling worries of a food security crisis.
The devastating explosion in the port of Beirut destroyed huge silos used to store imported wheat and the summer in Ukraine cut off a significant part of Lebanon’s supply chain.
And at fuel pumps, hour-long queues have made an unwanted comeback.
A resident told Arab News: “We have seen on social media that a new crisis is unfolding. We arrived at the supermarket to find people fighting over cooking oil and flour.
“We don’t trust the promises made by the ruling authority and we have already run out of basic food and medicine,” they said.
“We fear it will happen again, especially as Ramadan approaches,” they added.
Lebanon lost major wheat silos in the Beirut port explosion in 2020. The facilities stored around 120,000 tons of wheat.
Today, the country stores much of its wheat in warehouses in the north, which are stored after supplies are unloaded at the port of Tripoli.
But Lebanon still lacks sufficient storage space and depends on regular imports to meet its monthly wheat demand, which is around 50,000 tonnes.
In 2020, Lebanon imported more than 630,000 tons from Ukraine, which represented 80% of its total imports. Russia provided 15% of the rest, while 5% came from other countries.
And in 2021, Lebanon imported 520,000 tons from Ukraine and the rest from Russia.
It is estimated that Lebanon’s remaining stock will last just over a month, especially if the Central Bank fails to transfer money for wheat shipments ordered by Lebanese mills.
Economy Minister Amin Salam said the government was seeking deals with several countries to import wheat at reasonable prices and guarantee supplies of up to two months.
“But the problem remains in the source and the price, in addition to the speed of delivery of supplies before our stock runs out,” he added.
Due to the financial collapse and currency devaluation, Lebanon’s purchasing power has declined significantly, meaning its economy is almost entirely dependent on imports.
The prices of raw materials, foodstuffs and services are now closely linked to world markets, and any international event, such as the conflict in Ukraine, has direct effects on the Lebanese public.
Lebanon’s annual imports from Ukraine total around $500 million.
The head of the Syndicate of Food Importers in Lebanon, Hani Bohsali, said: “Lebanon imports 100,000 tons of oils per year, including 90,000 tons of sunflower oil, and 60% of sunflower oil comes from Ukraine, 30% from Russia and 10% from Turkey, Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Ukraine currently no longer exports, while Russia may experience problems with the SWIFT system, which will disrupt imports.
As the government seeks alternative countries to supply wheat, Bohsali warned that there is no alternative to cooking oils or the raw materials needed to produce them.
On Sunday, members of the State Security Directorate carried out inspections at gas stations closed on Saturday, saying they had run out of supplies. Authorities forced them to reopen if they had any stock left.
Queues at petrol stations returned on Saturday following rumors of a fuel crisis.
Official fuel prices jumped on Thursday, with a 20-litre petrol can costing more than 400,000 Lebanese pounds ($20). A 20-litre can of diesel fetched 375,000 Lebanese pounds.
However, Energy Minister Walid Fayad denied there was a crisis on Sunday.
Ships carrying gasoline are at sea and will soon unload their cargo, he added. “It seems fuel suppliers want to publish a daily price schedule to keep pace with global markets,” Fayad said.
The Directorate General of Petroleum is expected to release a new fuel price chart to reflect the surge in global fuel prices.
Georges Brax, a member of the Syndicate of Gas Station Owners, called on citizens to avoid panicking and stockpiling gasoline.
“It is true that the quantities arriving in Lebanon are now less than before due to the global crisis, but what we are receiving is enough for local needs,” he said.
Brax called on the Central Bank to speed up advance payments for ships to unload their cargoes to avert a crisis, especially as the situation could worsen in the future.
Acting Information Minister Abbas Al-Halabi said, “Lebanon is in communication with international companies to solve the food security problem.”
Many countries are experiencing export and import difficulties due to concerns over the war in Ukraine, he added.
The government of Prime Minister Najib Mikati will soon prevent the export of foodstuffs produced in Lebanon until the crisis caused by the Ukraine crisis subsides, and will then limit the export of wheat and flour to maintain the national supply. in bread.
The Ministry of Economy will also work to prevent monopolization and price gouging.
During his Sunday sermon, Maronite Patriarch Bechara Boutros Al-Rahi called for an end to wars that “incite combatants to practice barbarism against each other”.
He said, “We pray for the war to end, as a mercy to the innocent. We pray for an end to destruction, killing and displacement.
“We pray that the anger and hatred will subside. We pray that the parties to the conflict can sit down and resolve their conflict peacefully. We insist on the need to adopt a policy of neutrality.