BEIRUT (AP) – Pharmacies in Lebanon closed on Friday in protest of severe supply shortages, as motorists in search of fuel lined up for hours at gas stations since dawn.
The two-day strike launched by pharmacists for lack of drugs, gasoline and even infant milk is the latest sign of Lebanon’s economic and financial collapse, which seems to be spiraling out of control amid the total political inaction of the leaders from the country.
Entire city blocks have come to a standstill across the country, causing massive traffic jams in back streets and highways, due to queues of motorists in front of gas stations. Fuel shortages also threaten to shut down generator sets, which are the main source of electricity for most Lebanese.
Brawls broke out between customers at some stations as some insisted on filling gallons of plastic. Many stations have been closed, saying they have no gasoline to offer.
“The situation is unbearable,” said Rabie Alkajk, a Beirut resident who was part of a group of young men who closed a main street with garbage cans and other roadblocks on Friday. “Pharmacies are closed. There is no medicine, no baby milk. They hide it until they remove the subsidies. The petrol stations are closed. There is nothing, ”he shouted.
Lebanon is grappling with an unprecedented economic and financial crisis which has seen the local currency lose about 85% of its value since October 2019. Banks have cracked down on withdrawals and money transfers, preventing people from their savings in a context of galloping inflation.
With its foreign reserves drying up, the central bank has said for months that the government will not be able to maintain subsidies, including on drugs and fuel, leading to panic buying and hoarding at home and in warehouses. This has exacerbated the shortages.
The Lebanese crisis is rooted in decades of corruption and mismanagement by a political class that has thrived on a sectarian system of patronage networks.
The country’s healthcare system has been among the hardest hit, with some hospitals suspending elective surgeries, labs running out of test kits and doctors warning in recent days that they may even run out of anesthesia for operations.
Hospitals on Thursday said they may be forced to stop kidney dialysis treatment from next week.
Pharmacists say shortages affecting everything from chronic disease medications to pain relievers and infant formula have them increasingly at odds with customers and patients. They accuse distributors of hoarding products to sell them later at higher prices, or on the black market.
“What should I do at home when my son needs milk or diapers. Tell him I don’t have the money to buy them for you? Even if I had some, they are all closed! said Alkajk.