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French Version

With wages unchanged, rising prices deal heavy blow to Lebanese consumers

Many find it increasingly hard to purchase even the most basic necessities

As prices for basic necessities rise, many Lebanese say that they are finding it increasingly difficult to make ends meet. Prices for essentials, especially food, increased perceptibly in Lebanon over the last couple of months.

With salaries unchanged, the gap between expenses and income has broadened. The Daily Star went to the Beirut neighborhood of Hamra to gain a local perspective on the crisis.

Respondents voiced concern about rising prices, which have all but obliterated their pocketbooks. Milk, bread, sugar, meat and labneh are the most common items mentioned by residents asked about goods as prices have soared.

Edward Gostanian, 36, said "our family expenses went up about 25 percent over the last weeks. A jar of labneh for example was LL2000, now it's LL2500. That may not be a major expense, but it's a symbol of the overall trend. And in the end everyone is affected by that, because you can't just stop eating, right?"

Yolla Fawaz, 35, a doctor, made the same point. "I have three kids. They need diapers, milk, cheese, labneh, and that is so expensive now. If the prices for cloths go up for a while, it is not hard to postpone the shopping. But the things you need every day?" she asked. "And that affects poorer people even more. How shall they afford their daily food?" At least she sees a ray of hope. "The situation will change. If we have a new president, it will be better times."

Few residents expect that political measures will be implemented to improve the situation. "The government should have taken some action in the past," Gostanian said. "Now the damage has already been done."

Rody, 27, blames the rising cost of commodities on the increase in oil prices. "I am not an expert in economics" he apologizes with a smile, "but I think if oil is expensive, everything is expensive." He noticed a change in prices over the last months himself. "Ninety percent of my salary is gone on the first of every month, for the rent, the car and all the other expenses I have to plan for." In his view, not everyone is equally affected by rising prices. "Those who earn enough, and especially those who have relatives in other countries, don't have as much of a problem as other people. But for [those] depending only on their average Lebanese salary, these are difficult times," he says.

Meanwhile, rising prices are also taking a toll on the business sector. Elise Elia, 22, a waitress in a restaurant on Hamra Street, offers a different perspective on that matter. "We too had to raise some of our prices, because the meat, seafood, vegetables and other things we have to buy are more expensive now." That again influences the restaurants business, as "it affects our turnover." The situation also deals Elise a personal blow. "Our guests can't tip me as generous as they did before," she explains.

The impact of rising prices is something Mohammad al-Hijieh, 21, a jeweler, is also noticing. He blames the development on currency matters, saying: "Everything that comes from Europe is more expensive because of the unprecedented strong euro." That interferes with his business. "We get our silver from Italy, and the silver price is up. And it is the same with gold," he adds.

Some people are much less, if not at all, affected by higher food prices. A group of three women declined to comment on the matter, saying: "Ask poorer people, we are getting along very well, we don't have a problem."

On the one hand, Randa al-Saeed, 20, shares that view. "My father is a businessman; he does well, so we still can afford everything we want."

On the other hand, however, she notices the obvious change in prices. "Bread used to be for LL1,500, now it is LL1,750, and everything in the supermarket gets expensive."

A change for the better is nothing she expects to happen soon, but rather the contrary. "It seems that we are not only not seeing any progress, [but] it is regressing instead" she says.

Saeed was not the only one with a pessimistic outlook. "I don't expect prices to fall, come on, we are in Lebanon!" Elia says.

Beirut 08-11-2007
The Daily Star

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