Lebanon News

Sidon struggles under pandemic, lockdown strain

A woman wears a face mask as she walks in front of vegetable vendors during the lockdown in Sidon, Nov. 16, 2020. (The Daily Star/Mohammed Zaatari)

SIDON, Lebanon: Ghinwa was overjoyed when she received a call from the Lebanese Army informing her that she could present herself at the Army barracks to collect financial assistance.

Since her husband died a few years ago, Ghinwa, a mother of three children, has been alone in facing the harsh conditions in Lebanon, which is in the midst of an unprecedented economic and financial crisis that has plunged more than half the population into poverty.

Mariam, another widow, told The Daily Star that if it weren’t for this financial assistance program provided by the government, the situation would have been miserable.

The government implemented a cash assistance program for the most vulnerable groups of people, with LL400,000 provided every month, with the caretaker prime minister reassuring the public that the program would continue until “the end of the year.”

Mariam lives in in Ain al-Hilweh and has received aid from the Army multiple times. She lives in poor conditions, along with her daughter who suffers from epilepsy. She said that thousands of widows and families in poverty have received aid from the state.

“Of course this is not enough. They [the government] should double the amount,” she said.

Meanwhile, at a store, Zahra said she was there to buy necessities as she pushed her child in a stroller. “Prices of all items have gone up. We can’t find the products that are said to be subsidized,” she said.

An already crippling situation has only been exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic, which has compelled authorities to undertake extreme measures such as the current total lockdown.

In the midst of the second total lockdown in Lebanon, clothing stores and other types of shops that sold non-essential items were all ordered to close, a measure that many business owners described as “unjust.”

The Internal Security Forces patrolled areas in Sidon to ensure people were abiding by lockdown measures, now in its third day.

“It is true that coronavirus is taking away lives, but the state, through its decisions is hurting our work,” a clothing store owner told The Daily Star.

To compensate, many who sell non-essential commodities or are self-employed have now turned to currency trading on the black market.

In contrast to empty clothing stores, malls and markets, vegetable shops and supermarkets were overcrowded.

Inside old Sidon, vegetable vendor Muhieddine Fallah was wandering with his cart in the neighborhoods and alleys. He said that there are families where the breadwinner makes money from day to day.

“Many families are borrowing money to buy vegetables and other foodstuff,” he added.

 

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