Lebanon PM widens plea to secure food imports

Lebanon's caretaker Prime Minister Saad Hariri speaks after meeting with President Michel Aoun at the presidential palace in Baabda, Lebanon November 7, 2019. (Reuters)
Updated 07 December 2019

Lebanon PM widens plea to secure food imports

  • Hariri calls on UK, Spain, Germany for help over acute ‘liquidity shortage’

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s caretaker Prime Minister Saad Hariri on Saturday added Germany, Britain and Spain to the list of countries he has asked for help securing imports of food and raw materials amid an acute dollar shortage.

The Lebanese leader’s appeal to German Chancellor Angela Merkel, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Spanish PM Pedro Sanchez follows an earlier plea to Saudi Arabia, France, Russia, Turkey, the US, China and Egypt.

Lebanon’s call for help highlights the dire state of its economy, which is plunging deeper into recession with warnings by the World Bank of “increasing economic and financial pressures.” 

Hariri has called on “friendly countries” to help “address the liquidity shortage, and provide credits for imports to preserve food security and provide raw materials for production.”

The year-long financial crisis in the country has been made worse by strict bank limits on dollar withdrawals and transfers abroad.

Widespread civil unrest and anti-corruption protests directed at the authorities led to the resignation of the government 40 days ago. With no agreement on a replacement PM, the country has been in a state of political deadlock for more than a month.

It is not clear whether parliamentary consultations on Monday will lead to the appointment of a new PM following disagreement between President Michel Aoun and Hezbollah, which want a techno-political government, and Hariri, who wants a government of experts. 

Activists on Saturday highlighted the country’s growing economic woes by organizing donations in front of the central bank to help the needy.

The economic stagnation can be felt in Beirut markets, with dozens of shops closed and supermarket shelves lying empty as people prepare for the holiday season.

More than 260 food establishments have been forced to close in the past two months, according to a management syndicate, with the number expected to rise to 465 by the end of the month.

“The crisis is not recent,” said Tony Eid, head of the Beirut Traders Association. “Lebanon is witnessing a lack of liquidity among banks and consumers, and recent developments have aggravated the crisis.

“Hundreds of establishments, including clothing stores and restaurants, are closing, while major importers are struggling to import from abroad,” he said.

“Lebanon is sick and is being treated with painkillers with no signs of early recovery.” 

Pierre Achkar, head of the Hotel Owners Association, said that the hotels occupancy rate outside Beirut is “zero,” while it ranges between 7 and 12 percent in the capital.

“This is the sector’s worst crisis in its modern history,” he added. 

“Beirut was trying to restore its importance before the crisis, but with reduced banking facilities, we cannot expect tourists to come to Lebanon,” he said. “We are working on a campaign to encourage tourism, but we still have no hotel reservations, which means they have booked somewhere else.”

Achkar said that hotels had shut down 80 percent of their operations, closing some floors and restaurants, in a bid to stay afloat.

Meanwhile, Kamil Abu Suleiman, the caretaker government’s labor minister, formed an emergency committee to oversee legal disputes following collective dismissals. 

The ministry considered that “any dismissal carried out without its permission is considered an arbitrary dismissal,” he said. “All those who fall victim to such measures and do not receive their legal compensation should consult the ministry.”

Protests hinder Yemen’s efforts to combat coronavirus

Updated 28 February 2020

Protests hinder Yemen’s efforts to combat coronavirus

  • Amid complaints about the city’s poor health facilities, hospital staff and fearful residents began protesting

AL-MUKALLA: As workers in Yemen’s major port Aden began preparing a coronavirus quarantine facility at Al-Sadaqa Hospital, rumors swirled around the city claiming that if patients were locked inside the hospital, the disease would quickly spread through neighboring areas. 

Amid complaints about the city’s poor health facilities, hospital staff and fearful residents began protesting. People living nearby besieged the hospital, while health workers inside staged a sit-in, refusing to work unless the Health Ministry canceled plans to build the isolation room.

“They threatened to kill me,” Dr. Wafaa Dahbali, Al-Sadaqa Hospital manager, told Arab News.

The hospital’s administration was forced to ask the Health Ministry to move the facility to another location, she said.

“Now we cannot even bring in basic protective items such as masks or gloves since workers will think we still plan to build the quarantine room,” she added.

Yemen, which is gripped by a civil war that has killed thousands of people since late 2014, has intensified efforts to counter coronavirus. But due to crumbling heath services, lack of awareness among people and the influx of hundreds of African migrants via the southern coastline, health officials fear the virus could spread undetected across the country.

Yemen’s Ministry of Health in Aden on Wednesday said that Yemen is free of the disease and all Yemenis returning from China had tested negative. Health Minister Nasir Baoum opened a quarantine center at Seiyun Airport in the southeastern province of Hadramout on Sunday, and said that he had ordered all sea, land and air entry points to ramp up detection measures.

Financial constraints

Health officials across Yemen told Arab News this week that health facilities are working at full capacity to cope with the influx of war casualties, and cases of seasonal diseases such as cholera, dengue fever and H1N1.

The appearance of coronavirus in Yemen would increase the burden on the country’s crumbling and cash-strapped health facilities, they said.

Ibn Sina Hospital in Al-Mukalla provides health services to patients from the three southern provinces of Hadramout, Shabwa and Mahra in addition to treating victims of the conflict in Abyan and Jawf. 

Recently the Health Ministry decided to build a quarantine center at the hospital. Lacking sufficient space, a three-room kitchen was turned into an isolation facility.

However, Dr. Alabed Bamousa, the hospital’s director, told Arab News that the facility could not afford to furnish the unit with medical equipment and staff lacked proper know-how.

“We have nothing at the moment. We asked the ministry for the names of health workers who would be trained by the World Health Organization on dealing with coronavirus patients,” Bamousa said.

He said that workers are not being encouraged to wear masks and gloves in order to avoid triggering panic. 

“My viewpoint is that we shut up till we are ready,” Bamousa said.

Health officials at Al-Mukalla, one of Yemen’s busiest ports, have asked sailors to complete declarations showing their movements before docking.

Riyadh Al-Jariri, head of the Health Ministry’s Hadramout office, said that teams of six health workers in each district in the province are visiting Yemenis who have returned from China. 

In the streets, people say that they get information about the virus from social media rather than official channels or local media outlets.

Hassan, a shopkeeper, said that he learned about symptoms of coronavirus and protection measures from WhatsApp. 

“I know that the virus targets the lung and causes fever. We are advised to wash hands and wear marks,” he said.