Beirut: For a month now, Linda has been buying locally-manufactured sanitary pads rather than imported ones. Lebanon’s markets have been witnessing an uncontrollably-steep increase in prices of consumer goods.
The Lebanese marketer, Linda M., constantly purchased imported sanitation pads for 3,000 Lebanese pounds until early February, when she started buying locally-made ones after the prices had doubled due to the worsening economic crisis.
Lebanese consumers have been feeling the pinch and having their pockets emptied faster than usual due to the authorities’ ineffectiveness in controlling daily price increases for almost all types of day-to-day consumer goods at market shelves. Protestors have been rallying in streets since October 17 demonstrating against the ruling elite’s mismanagement and misuse of power, the political corruption, and skyrocketing public debt (over $87 billion).
The country has been suffering from very slow growth, over 40 per cent unemployment and nationwide waves of layoffs, salary cuts and business closures.
Since the end of Civil War in 1990, consumers haven’t felt this amount of economic pain. Economists and financial analysts say most employees have lost nearly 50 per cent of the value of their salaries due to the record weakening of the Lebanese pound against the dollar, which is pegged to the local currency.
Despite January’s decision of the Syndicate of Money Changers to fix the dollar’s market price at LBP2,000, the majority of money exchange houses have been flouting the decision and trading it in between LBP2,000 and 2,550.
Meanwhile the Central Bank has officially fixed the price at LBP1,515 to the dollar. During this week, the Public Funds Attorney General Judge Ali Ebrahim referred 18 money changers to the criminal court for flouting monetary regulations and creating financial chaos in the market.
“I used to buy an imported brand of women pads for $2 [LBP3,000] but now due to dollar fluctuation, imported brands are worth up to LBP8,000. The pertinent ministries have been failing to control the prices of many consumer goods … sanitary pads, children diapers, baby milk and many others,” Linda told Gulf News at a supermarket in Hamra.
Ahmad, a pharmacist in Mar Elias, said on Wednesday two women scuffled with him for selling imported sanitary pads for double the normal price.
“Diapers and women pads, like most hygiene products, are imported and we pay for them in dollars. We have been forced to increase prices of imported items due to the fluctuation … most clients are purchasing local products in Lebanese pounds. The government started subsidising few basic products like baby milk … so the prices didn’t change much. Meanwhile prices of diapers, sanitary pads and other personal hygiene items increased 35-40 per cent,” he said.
In a quick tour conducted by Gulf News around pharmacies and supermarkets, Maher, a pharmacy owner in Sanayeh, expressed his frustration over the market’s performance.
“It is seriously disgusting and worrying. We have been losing many clients as opposed to a retailers whose business relies mainly on 70 per cent imported goods. Many suppliers have stopped delivering us products because they need us to pay in dollars … we cannot afford that. We cannot withdraw money from our bank account except for limited monthly amounts. We are being forced to buy dollars from money changers for unbelievable prices [LBP2,500],” Maher said.
A block down towards Hamra area, Chaaban, another pharmacist, said the ministry has started subsidising formula milk since the beginning of February. However he pointed to a significant decrease in sales of several hygiene items, especially diapers.
Dalia, a teller at a hypermarket said prices of diapers, women pads, shampoos, lotions and other personal care items have increased noticeably “because they are imported in dollar”.
“Local brands have maintained the same value,” she added.
Shopper Fatima Habib, an employee, said she spent more than half of the month’s salary on her first visit to a supermarket.
“This is unbelievable and has never happened even during the war. Price increases have become troublesome … things are getting more difficult and tight. Everything has increased, even pet food. I have six cats and paying for their food has become a financial burden … I may have to give them away,” she said with a bitter smile on her face.
Wafa, a pharmacy accountant, said prices of diapers and women pads have doubled but they are still ‘surviving on what remains from last month’s products’.
“I could say many clients have reduced their consumption or have replaced their needs with cheaper and local brands,” she added.