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Lebanon suffers 24-hour blackout, food poisoning, business closures amid fuel crisis

An anti-government demonstrator waves the national flag as they block the street, with burning garbage dumpsters, in front of Lebanon’s central bank in the capital Beirut on March 16, 2021, during a protest against the deteriorating economic situation.

JOSEPH EID | AFP | Getty Images

Lebanon suffered a total power outage over the weekend, leaving its population of 6 million without centrally generated electricity for 24 hours.

The state electricity company said in a statement that the shutdown of the country’s two main power stations, due to fuel shortages, had “directly affected the stability of the power network and led to its complete outage, with no possibility of resuming operations in the meantime.”

Power returned late Sunday after the central bank granted the energy ministry $100 million in credit to buy fuel and keep its plants operating. Officials had warned the outage was likely to last several days.

The crisis is creating a nightmare for the country’s residents, but has been a long time in the making.

Gas shortages might sound familiar — the U.K. and the rest of Europe are in the throes of a mounting fuel crisis, which has induced panic buying and erratic behavior among many who had never imagined facing such shortages.

But for Lebanon, the same problem has been a reality for months — it’s just another battle in the long list of crises that have left the country with multiple daily power outages, a banking and economic crisis, food shortages, overwhelmed hospitals, and a spiraling currency relying on volatile black market exchange rates.

Walking through the capital Beirut — a once-thriving city often called the “Paris of the Middle East” — at any time of day, one can see shopfronts closed or operating in darkness, with those lucky enough to have access to fuel relying on backup generators to keep the lights on. When the power is out, many shopkeepers will refuse to sell anything but water, as the volatile minute-by-minute changes in the value of the Lebanese lira mean the price of goods can change from one period of power to the next. 

And hundreds of businesses destroyed in the devastating Beirut Port explosion of August 2020 are permanently gone. With little help from the state, gutted bars and other businesses with their entrances blown open and innards full of debris remain fixtures on streets all over the city.

Refrigerator shelves across Beirut sit empty as shop owners reduce their stock of perishable items due to Lebanon’s worsening fuel and power crisis. Shop owner Rabih Daou has kept only one fridge running, which relies on his backup generator, to save power. Beirut, Lebanon, September 24, 2021.

Natasha Turak | CNBC

“It’s catastrophic,” Rabih Daou, a small grocery store owner in Beirut’s Geitawy district, told CNBC in late September from his shop, darkened during one of the country’s many daily power outages. He pointed to empty refrigerator shelves, where only one small fridge was running, holding a few dairy products.

“We cannot buy a lot of things. We cannot buy cheese and ham, we have to buy them by small pieces, because we don’t always have electricity, and the people are always afraid,” he added.

Rabih Daou, a shop owner in Beirut’s Geitawy district, stands over his generator, the only means of electricity during hours-long daily power outages across Lebanon. The country’s fuel crisis has made it harder to access fuel to run the generators. Beirut, Lebanon, September 24, 2021.

Natasha Turak | CNBC

A less talked about consequence of Lebanon’s fuel and power crisis has been widespread cases of food poisoning, as grocery stores, restaurants and households struggle to keep goods fresh amid electricity failures and the summer heat. Most of Beirut has had no power at night since the start of summer. Meat and dairy consumption have dropped dramatically, residents say. 

“They don’t want to buy ham and cheese and yogurt, because they are afraid that if we don’t have electricity, the food will be not good,” Daou said.

How did Lebanon get to this point?

Crashing currency

Savings wiped out

Read More:
Lebanon suffers 24-hour blackout, food poisoning, business closures amid fuel crisis

2021-10-11 07:23:02

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