Lebanon is disbursing funds to temporarily avert bread crisis, minister says

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BEIRUT, April 12 (Reuters) – The Lebanese government has agreed to disburse $15 million to temporarily ease the country’s growing bread shortage, Economy Minister Amin Salam told Reuters, while saying the funds will only last a few weeks would.

Long lines had formed outside bakeries across the country since Monday after industry insiders warned the government had failed to extend a long-promised line of credit for the subsidized good.

“I’ve been looking around since morning but I couldn’t find any bread – there is none at all,” Mohammad Mustapha, a shopper in the southern city of Sidon, told Reuters.

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“I have young children to feed and it’s Ramadan,” he said, referring to the holy month for Muslims when the all-day fast is broken with dinner.

Salam said the government will provide $15.3 million in loans to importers as a “solution to the problem of subsidized bread.”

“This gives us a period of about two to three weeks before we need to open another line of credit that we had requested for $21 million,” Salam said.

He said the government is not currently considering removing bread subsidies, instead seeking a $150 million deal with the World Bank to improve food security because, in the long run, “we won’t be able to do anything subsidize, let alone bread”.

Lebanon relies heavily on food imports and pays for them in dollars, which have become increasingly difficult to come by since its economy collapsed in 2019.

Since then, the Lebanese pound has lost more than 90% of its value, while food prices have risen more than 11-fold, according to the World Food Programme.

The bread shortages were exacerbated by the war in Ukraine, which supplies most of Lebanese wheat, and Beirut’s inability to stockpile wheat reserves, as its largest silos were destroyed in the 2020 Beirut port blast.

“We don’t have silos and we don’t have money,” said Ghassan Bou Habib, vice president of Wooden Bakery, one of the country’s largest bakery networks. “Bread becomes a luxury food – it becomes an expensive commodity”

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Reporting by Laila Bassam, Aziz Taher and Maya Gebeily in Beirut; Edited by Alex Richardson

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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