Pharmacies in Lebanon shut, while bankrupt government plans airport expansion
BEIRUT – Angry protesters briefly blocked several roads across Lebanon as the local currency hit a new low early Tuesday, amid the country’s deepening economic crisis.
The Lebanese pound, officially pegged to the US dollar at 1,507 pounds since 1990, reached 143,000 to the dollar on the black market early this morning. As of the time of writing, the currency had regained some value, trading around 110,000 to the dollar after the central bank raised the exchange rate on its foreign exchange platform, known as Sayrafa, to 90,000 pounds to the dollar .
The currency falls sharply as the country grapples with its worst economic crisis in years. Many Lebanese have blamed the political elite – which has ruled the country since Lebanon’s civil war – for years of corruption and economic mismanagement that pushed Lebanon towards the economic and social disaster it currently faces amid food shortages , medicine, electricity and fuel. .
On Tuesday, the Pharmacists’ Syndicate announced the closure of all pharmacies across the country after a run-out of medicines citing “a lack of concern on the part of officials.” Drug importing companies have been withholding medicines for two weeks now because they refuse to sell them to pharmacies at the prices set by the Ministry of Health. Many Lebanese are already unable to access life-saving medicine, which is either too expensive or no longer available on the market.
The financial and social disaster of 2019 affected almost every sector of life. Prices of food and other basic commodities have skyrocketed, and people’s money is still locked up in banks, which have imposed informal capital controls and limited cash withdrawals. More than three quarters of the population are now living in poverty, according to the United Nations.
Some gas stations in Lebanon were also closed on Tuesday amid the currency drop, claiming that the government’s fixed pricing did not reflect the rising prices in the black market. After a meeting on Tuesday, the Gas Station Owners Syndicate asked the government to allow fuel stations to price gasoline in US dollars.
Meanwhile, the Minister of Public Works and Transport Ali Hamie announced on Monday a project to build a new terminal at the country’s only international airport in Beirut, with a foreign investment of $122 million. A leading company based in Ireland, daa International, will be in charge of operating the terminal when it is completed in four years’ time. The project was launched during a ceremony held in Beirut in the presence of Lebanese ministers and Irish Minister of State James Browne. Hamie said during the ceremony that the new terminal will create 2,500 new job opportunities and serve 3.5 million passengers every year.
No development works have been carried out on Beirut Rafic Hariri International Airport since 1998. It has been operating at full capacity since the end of the civil war in the early 1990s and handles 8 million passengers a year.