'People are left to suffer': Lebanon's growing fuel crisis

An employee fills a car with gasoline at a petrol station in Lebanon's capital Beirut on June 11, 2021, amidst severe fuel shortages. [Getty]
5 min read
16 June, 2021
In-depth: Fuel shortages are the latest in a series of crises in Lebanon, with people queuing for hours to buy rationed petrol amid economic turmoil.

Almost two years into Lebanon’s financial crisis, the government’s failure to find policy solutions has subjected the economy to a prolonged depression.

The energy sector in Lebanon is once again on the edge of collapse, as the government continues to throw money at the problem rather than implementing concrete reforms.

With the local currency collapsing and banks restricting withdrawals and money transfers, Lebanon is experiencing shortages of medicine, gasoline, and other essential supplies as the Central Bank's foreign currency reserves run out, with long queues forming outside petrol stations.

"According to the World Bank, Lebanon's economic and financial crisis is likely to rank in the top ten, possibly top three, most severe crises globally since the mid-19th century"

There have been reports of altercations and armed confrontations as people wait for hours in line from the early morning, with many taking to social media to vent their frustrations.

Over the weekend, President of the Association for Petroleum Companies, George Fayyad, said that the Central Bank had agreed to pay the fees for fuel tankers that have been docked in Lebanese waters, enabling them to offload supplies sufficient to cover the market demand for about two weeks.

“As usual, it’s a temporary fix with no vision nor a sustainable solution. The more they do their usual temporary fixes, the more costly these fixes are going to be,” Jessica Obeid, an independent energy policy consultant, told The New Arab.

Obeid explained that Lebanon needs reforms and sustainable solutions, starting with a financial plan.

'People are left to suffer': Lebanon's growing fuel crisis
Vehicles queue up for fuel at a petrol station in Lebanon's capital Beirut on 11 June 2021, amidst severe fuel shortages. [Getty]

“They're so far buying time by maintaining the status quo. This will have damaging consequences and reduces the prospects for an actual serious solution,” Obeid said.

For now, Lebanon's fuel crisis looks set to be resolved on a short-term basis - two weeks at a time.

According to Beirut Report, a local investigative platform, Lebanon’s latest crisis is compounded by its poor infrastructure and urban planning.

The massive lines for petrol across the country have caused huge traffic jams because highways lack access roads, with the petrol stations (and all types of shops) usually located directly on the highway.

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Even on a 'normal' day, any vehicle stalled or entering the freeway causes traffic jams because there are no entrances, exit ramps or emergency stopping lanes.

Constant traffic and the lack of transport infrastructure hinder economic growth and investment, perpetuating the financial crisis, Beirut Report states.

According to the World Bank, Lebanon’s economic and financial crisis is likely to rank in the top ten, possibly top three, most severe crises globally since the mid-19th century.

Mobility struggle

Lebanon’s mobility has also become a social justice issue, with a severe lack of pedestrian and cyclist infrastructure or support for bus drivers.

Earlier this year, Marwan Fayad, head of the Public Transportation Drivers Union, said that nearly 85 per cent of taxi drivers had stopped working, with those who were still working often struggling to make a living under the current economic conditions.

"They're so far buying time by maintaining the status quo. This will have damaging consequences and reduces the prospects for an actual serious solution"

“Lebanon lacks mass transit or regular and reliable public transport services, despite the high population density and relatively short distances that generally favour such systems,” Rim Khamis, an expert in geography and planning, told The New Arab.

According to the Beirut-based research group, the Gherbal initiative, Gasoline prices in Lebanon increased more than 66%, and diesel prices rose 77 %, in the last few months.

The national taxi association had earlier this year asked the government for an emergency budget but has not yet received an answer.

Health crisis

Lebanon’s once-thriving healthcare system has also been hit especially hard.

Some hospitals are suspending elective procedures, labs are running out of test kits, and physicians are warning that anaesthetic for procedures may run out soon.

Due to extreme shortages of supplies, Lebanon's hospitals have announced that they may be forced to stop renal dialysis treatments.

“Up until 2020, we used to witness an occasional shortage of specific medication due to importation hurdles or repricing negotiations with the ministry of health,” Joseph El-Khoury, a psychiatrist and university professor, told The New Arab.

El Khoury explained that back in the summer of 2020, doctors started being told that shortages had affected a growing number of essential medications. However, things improved slightly towards the end of 2020.

"This latest rationing is the most severe. All medication prescribed for mental health conditions are either no longer or barely available"

“This latest rationing is the most severe. All medication prescribed for mental health conditions are either no longer or barely available,” El Khoury said.

“For now, people are left to suffer, and I worry those with chronic conditions might relapse into depression, anxiety but also not forgetting the psychotic disorders which are estimated at 50,000 individuals,” he added.

“Moreover, keep in mind there are fewer doctors, fewer nurses, and fewer hospital beds to care for them”.

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In a recent tweet, Firass Abiad, head of Rafik Hariri University Hospital, said “it is difficult to roll back a snowball. The decision to sharply increase the prices of laboratory investigations is another sign of the rapidly deepening crisis in healthcare. In effect, patients are being asked to pay for healthcare services at the dollar market rate.”

Abiad explained that in healthcare, costs are closely interconnected. In a domino effect, the price hike in one service will soon be followed by a similar one in others.

“More worrying, changes are not being introduced gradually so that the system and patients can make the necessary adjustments,” he said.

Tala Ramadan is a journalist and activist who focuses on scientific, social, humanitarian, and educational issues.

Follow her on Twitter: @TalaRamadan