Lebanese feel pinch of crisis-caused inflation as Christmas approaches

Beirut: Marwan walks into Karout toys store in Beirut to buy a Christmas tree for his 10-year-old son. He left the store after inquiring about the Christmas tree’s price, which costs around 7,00,000 Lebanese pounds (LBP).

The price is way out of his reach. There won’t be enough money for the rest of the month’s food if he buys the tree.

“Unfortunately, this is the first time I’ve felt powerless and unable of purchasing what my son has asked for,” Marwan said.

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Average Lebanese have felt the pinch of the inflation in the country, after its currency started to depreciate against the US dollar two years ago, when the country entered an economic crisis, Xinhua news agency reported.

The Lebanese pound was tied to the $ at a rate of 1,500 to 1 in 1997, and the two currencies were used interchangeably until October 2019. Since then, the currency lost up to 90 per cent of its value, while the official rate remained the same since 1997.

With less than a month till Christmas, the crisis and worsening living conditions continue to have a significant impact on the lives of Lebanese who cannot afford to celebrate as they did in previous years.

Prices of most items sold in Lebanon’s stores have skyrocketed as they were imported and paid for in $US.

People used to buy a Christmas tree for about 300,000 LBP, which was about 200 $US, before the end of 2019. But $200 US currently is equal to around 5 million LBP, which is far more than the minimum monthly wage of 6,75,000 LBP, according to Zeinab Karout, owner of Karout toys store.

“Because most salaries in Lebanon are paid in the local currency, the rise in the price of the $US forces people to limit their purchases to food and medicine,” said Karout, adding she was only able to sell a few old, heavily discounted products she had bought when the $ was still weak against the LBP.

People looking for Christmas trees and decorations change their minds when they convert prices from the $US to the LBP, said Mireille Mrad, general manager of sales and purchasing at King Georges, a decoration shop.

“Only a few people can afford anything they want as they earn the $US,” said Mrad, adding a large percentage of her customers have asked her to mend their old trees and decorations rather than buying new ones in order to save money.

Mrad is saddened by how the economic crisis has stifled people’s enthusiasm for Christmas and the joy of the season by forcing them to reconsider every purchase they make. “People are now more concerned with what to eat over the holidays than how to adorn their trees,” she said.

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