Most Lebanese have been inside for over three weeks. There has been a total curfew, 24 hours a day since mid-January, and it is perhaps the most stringent measure in the world. The lockdown will officially end on Monday, but there is a fear that the government will extend the measure.
In the Lebanese port town of Tripoli there is little to notice of the total lockdown. Sitting at home for weeks is clearly not an option for many Tripolitans. “We have no work, no money and no one is looking at us,” says Bassam Nahas. He comes to central Al Nour Square every day.
That‘s the meeting place for protesters. “Here we express our pain. The pain of our families. I want my rights, I’m hungry. Nobody here has a penny in their pocket,” says Nahas. Almost all the teeth fell out of his mouth. He can‘t afford a dentist.
Bread in a cup of tea
Evening after evening, protesters were thrown with stones and Molotov cocktails in Tripoli. The riot police used tear gas and fired sharp; at least one was killed among the protesters. Meanwhile, several key figures have been arrested, people are afraid and it is calmer.
Tripoli is the poorest city in Lebanon. A lot of people here are day labourers without any social security. Every day they have to wait and see if they make enough money to buy enough food.
“ My family and I dip some pieces of bread into a cup of tea in the evening and that’s our dinner. If I have olives in my house, good, we‘ll add them,” says Nahas. His fridge is empty. Before the pandemic and the various lockdowns, he sold bottles of water and candy on the street. But there have been no customers for months and therefore no income.
In the supermarket of Ahmad Haidar in a poor neighborhood of Tripoli, they know all about it. “People only buy what is needed. Nobody gets help from the government so a lot of people buy their money from us,” he says, and he takes a green notebook from under the counter. It’s full of names of regular customers and basic products that they took over the past few weeks but couldn‘t afford.
“ Bread, rice, sugar, beans,” reads Haidar. By the end of the month, people hope to pay off their debts. “Usually they can’t. We wait and wait. But in the end, we often get stuck with these debts.”
Sally comes in and walks around the shelves looking. In almost everything, she asks what it costs. Haidar answers and Sally shakes her head. Due to inflation, the prices of many products change almost daily. “I have been a teacher for over twenty years, but I only get half a salary. And this while prices are constantly rising,” she says, as she puts back a jar of sesame paste.
Sally is always looking for the cheapest. “As soon as I get the chance, I send my children abroad. There is no future here.”
Testing costs money
It is estimated that 50% of Lebanese live below the poverty line. The value of the Lebanese pound has fallen by around 80% while food prices have risen enormously. People are looking in the garbage for something to eat.
The total lockdown, which began on January 14, is yet another attempt to bring down the contamination numbers. The care system has not been able to handle it for a long time. “In Tripoli, it is unclear how high the levels of infection actually are; few people get tested because that costs money,” says Diana Karame, who runs a soup kitchen but recently also supplies oxygen bottles at home for people who can‘t find a bed in a hospital.
In her kitchen all kinds of dishes are prepared that deliver on scooters. “The total lockdown is extremely difficult for us, people can’t come and get the food,” she says.
Karame provides food for people who would otherwise have nothing. She hears one miserable story after another. They help hundreds of people every day and new people sign up every day. “I have 200, 300 people on the waiting list. People are hungry and it is impossible to help everyone.”
NGOs fill the big gap of an absent government and cannot meet demand at all. “We need real changes. A new generation of politicians. This is no longer going. It is complete chaos,” concludes Nahas on the square. He says he will continue to demonstrate until the time comes.
Nieuwsuur travelled to Lebanon in December last year and looked back on the disaster year with three Lebanese. What are the consequences of the economic crisis in the country?