Three killed in fights over fuel in Lebanon as economic crisis deepens

Nearly 80% of population now lives in poverty, UN says, as currency continues to tumble

Activists during a vigil on Sunday in honour of those who died in last August’s Beirut Port explosion. Photograph: Hussein Malla/AP Photo

Activists during a vigil on Sunday in honour of those who died in last August’s Beirut Port explosion. Photograph: Hussein Malla/AP Photo

 

Three people have been killed in fights over scarce fuel in northern Lebanon, the region hardest hit by the acute economic crisis which has gripped the country for two years.

Shortages have led to long queues at petrol stations, brawling among motorists and threats against attendants. On Monday, a man was shot in the village of Bakhoun when a motorist attempted to cut a queue. The gunman later surrendered to the army.

Last Friday, two men were killed by live fire and a hand grenade in the port of Tripoli in retaliation for an earlier confrontation over a fuel deal. The killer turned himself in to authorities.

Nearly 80 per cent of Lebanon’s population lives in poverty, the UN has reported, revising up steeply last year’s figure of 55 per cent. The Lebanese currency has plunged to 20,000 to the dollar from the official rate of 1,500 before the economic meltdown began.

Since Lebanon’s central bank lacks foreign currencies to purchase imported petrol and diesel, rationing has been imposed and official prices raised. Shortages are blamed on smuggling to neighbouring Syria and distributors who hoard and sell at high black market rates. Prices have risen by 220 per cent since last year.

“The situation is very hard, and we can’t handle it much longer,” fuel distributors’ spokesman Fadi Abu Shakra told local Al-Jadeed TV.

Lebanon’s electricity company provides several hours of power to upmarket districts in Beirut where residents and businesses augment the supply with electricity from private and neighbourhood generators. Delivery, which used to be according to a schedule, has become erratic and unpredictable.

Total darkness

Less affluent urban neighbourhoods, towns and villages may receive one hour of power a day. Residents without resources cannot afford to turn to generators. Day and night, heat and humidity wear down the country’s six million residents while at night, vast areas are plunged into total darkness.

Households, shops, and supermarkets cannot refrigerate food, or pharmacies medicine. Meat, chicken, fish and dairy products have vanished from many family menus due to fear of spoilage and food poisoning.

The UN children’s fund has warned of the imminent loss of access to safe water as there is dwindling fuel for pumps in distribution networks and a lack of spare parts for equipment and chlorine for purification.

Hospitals have said they have been unable to access fuel for generators and may have to close while most medical facilities are overwhelmed with Covid-19 patients.

Meanwhile, President Michel Aoun and the latest prime minister designate, Najib Mikati, continue to dispute cabinet posts.