Workers prepare sweets on the first day of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan at a sweet shop in Beirut, Lebanon, March 23, 2023. (Xinhua/Bilal Jawich)
by Dana Halawi
BEIRUT, March 24 (Xinhua) -- Rana Rashidi, a young Lebanese housewife and mother of two, walks ino a supermarket in capital Beirut to buy some food for the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
She puts a small portion of minced beef in her trolley, a bag of rice, two packs of pasta, and a few other items, including Qamar Al-deen, a popular Ramadan sweet made of apricot.
"I used to fill my cart with meat, chicken, fish, cheese and dates, without worrying much about the prices; Today, we can only afford to buy a few items," she said, reminiscing about her shopping experience before the 2019 financial crisis in Lebanon.
During Ramadan, Muslims refrain from eating and drinking from dawn to dusk. They break their fast with dates and water after sunset and gather to enjoy various dishes with their families.
Workers hang lanterns and decorations on the first day of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan in Marjayoun, southern Lebanon, March 23, 2023. (Photo by Taher Abu Hamdan/Xinhua)
"This year, we took out many items from our Ramadan menu to save some money as prices have increased tremendously, especially for people whose wages are still paid in the local currency like me," said Hassan Merhi, a teacher at a public school in Beirut.
Lebanon's financial crisis caused a collapse of the local currency and a devaluation of wages paid in Lebanese pounds, plunging over 80 percent of the population into poverty. The crisis also forced banks to impose restrictions on withdrawals of deposits in both the U.S. dollar and local currency.
Hana Saykali, another shopper, said she planned to buy vegetables twice a week only to prepare the traditional Tabbouleh or Fattoush dishes for her family of five members.
"We must cut down on everything these days. Otherwise, our salaries will not be enough to afford food for the whole month of Ramadan," she said. The woman earns about 30 million Lebanese pounds (about 272 U.S. dollars) a month.
People shop at a market in preparation for the Muslim holy month of Ramadan in Tripoli, Lebanon on March 22, 2023. (Photo by Khaled Habashiti/Xinhua)
According to a recent study by the Crisis Observatory at the American University of Beirut on the repercussions of Lebanon's crises, the average cost of a Ramadan dinner for a family of five is about 6 million Lebanese pounds.
"The price of Fattoush for one person has increased by 6.3 times while, on the other hand, wages increased by only three times in the public sector, and 3.8 times in the private sector," according to the study.
Due to the crisis, some Lebanese have to skip meals or turn to cheaper food, which is typically deficient in nutrition and of questionable quality, said Farah al-Shami, a senior fellow at Beirut-based Arab Reform Initiative, a network of independent Arab research and policy institutes.
To stay afloat, some Lebanese are selling their possessions such as jewelry, real estate, cars, furniture and clothing, while many others depend on remittances from abroad, said al-Shami.
"The annual remittances from abroad is worth about 7 billion U.S. dollars, and they benefit 350,000 to 400,000 out of about one million families," she said. ■