- Title: As Lebanon reforms go slowly, Lebanese wait and reel
- Date: 3rd October 2019
- Summary: BEIRUT, LEBANON (FILE - AUGUST 6, 2018) (REUTERS) EXTERIOR OF LEBANON'S CENTRAL BANK BUILDING VARIOUS OF CEDAR LOGO ON BUILDING EXTERIOR OF CENTRAL BANK BUILDING WITH SIGN READING (Arabic/ French): "Lebanese Central Bank"
- Embargoed: 17th October 2019 15:01
- Keywords: economy reforms banks currency people markets Lebanon exchange central bank
- Location: BEIRUT, LEBANON
- City: BEIRUT, LEBANON
- Country: Lebanon
- Topics: Living / Lifestyle,Society/Social Issues
- Reuters ID: LVA002AZJMMVP
- Aspect Ratio: 16:9
- Story Text: Lebanon's economic problems have been building for years, but people in the streets of Beirut say they now feel the burden more than ever. The government has declared "an economic emergency" and vowed to enact long-delayed reforms to rein in spending.
One man was seen rummaging through garbage dumpsters and another homeless elderly man was reading the day's newspapers on the road, while Lebanese taxi driver Walid Hanna searched for passengers which he says he now rarely finds.
"There is no work at all... How should we feed our families? How should we work? How should we act in this country? I don't know. The situation is very, very tragic," Hanna said with sorrow as he smoked a cigarette, driving through the greater Beirut area.
Shattered by war between 1975 and 1990, Lebanon has one of the world's highest debt burdens as a share of its economy. Economic growth has been hit by regional conflict and instability. Unemployment for the under 35s runs at 37%. The balance of payments has been negative for years, meaning more money leaves the country than enters it.
For Adeeba Bazz, who works at a 50-year-old grocery shop, the situation is different this time and harder to endure.
"Wars passed and we rose again each time, now there's no one to bring the country back up anymore. Everyone is broke, everyone is hungry, there is no money in the country anymore. Where are we heading? We should ask those we elected," Bazz added.
The kind of steps needed to fix the national finances have long proven elusive. Sectarian politicians, many of them civil war veterans, have long used state resources for their own political benefit and are reluctant to cede prerogatives. Many of them are millionaires. Some are billionaires.
Lebanon ranked 138 of 180 countries in Transparency International's 2018 corruption perceptions index.
Lebanon's pound has been pegged at 1,507.5 pounds to the dollar for more than 20 years but the price has recently risen above that level on the unofficial, or parallel, market, reflecting an economic crisis stemming from low growth and slowing capital inflows.
The government has vowed to maintain the peg.
The central bank took steps on Tuesday (October 1) to provide banks with U.S. dollars to back imports of fuel, wheat and medicine.
Some importers have threatened to strike because they cannot secure dollars at the official rate from banks and are being forced to pay more on the parallel market.
Central bank governor Riad Salameh said on Thursday (October 3) there had always been some difference between the official peg and money exchangers' rates and that the central bank would preserve the stability of the official rate.
Gas station owner Antoine Bassil has described how the economic situation has affected his business, referring to the dollars cost as well as a difference he noticed in customers' behaviour who now spend less than they used to.
"Even war times were better than now," said Bassil, who manages the gas station. He inherited it from his father who had run the station since it opened in 1964.
Earlier on Sunday, protests flared in the country over the deteriorating economic conditions.
(Production: Yara Abi Nader, Issam Abdallah, Ayat Basma, Ahmad El Kerdi)
- Copyright Holder: FILE REUTERS (CAN SELL)
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