Lebanese rush to petrol stations after fuel shortage scare
People across Lebanon are bracing themselves for a bleak scenario amid speculation that government subsidies will end soon.
While some petrol stations were offering a minimal amount of fuel - worth 20 US dollars - to motorists, others had completely stopped serving customers all together.
Long lines of vehicles were seen queueing up at stations nationwide waiting to fill up. A severe crisis has taken its toll on nearly every sector of the Lebanese economy in recent months, with the Lebanese national currency hitting unprecedented lows against the dollar.
George Brax, a member of the Lebanese Syndicate of Gas Station Owners, however reassured people on Monday that the fuel crisis was on its way to being solved.
“A ship carrying large quantities of fuel has obtained the approval of the Central Bank and had started unloading in privately-owned depots,” Brax told the Lebanese National News Agency (NNA).
He added that there were no plans to lift subsidies on fuel, despite media speculation recently that the Lebanese Central Bank will soon stop funding essential goods as dollar reserves dry up.
Brax warned though that any potential lifting of subsidies would not only affect the price of gasoline, but all other commodities.
“There are $3 billion worth of fuel imports annually, so lifting subsidies will not be easy”, he told NNA.
Fadi Abou Shakra, a representative of fuel distributors in Lebanon, blamed the shortage at petrol stations on rumours which he said caused people to panic-buy fuel.
“This rush of people led [petrol stations] to run out of fuel. There are companies that are continuing to deliver and distribute fuel, while others are rationing, but in general there is no crisis, and [fuel] is available across Lebanon,” Abou Shakra told The New Arab's Arabic-language service.
There have been previous instances of rumours of fuel shortages and panic-buying in Lebanon, amid the unstable economic situation in the country.
The Central Bank has for long subsidised prices on fuel, wheat and medicine in Lebanon.
However, this support could end soon, as its reserves run out amid the worst economic recession to hit Lebanon in decades.
The end of these subsidies could see prices in the country soaring even higher, with officials warning of chaos in the streets.
A major problem Lebanon faces is the smuggling of essential goods across the border to Syria.
Large tanks of fuel have often been seen crossing into the neighbouring country, as Syria also reels under dire economic conditions caused by years of conflict.
Some distributors and petrol stations in Lebanon have been accused of deliberately hoarding fuel. Warehouses where other essential items are kept, such as medications and powdered milk for babies, have been raided in the past months by authorities.
Lebanese media reported that Beirut police raided a number of petrol stations Tuesday that were closed to customers to check if they were hiding any fuel.
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