Desperate Lebanese turn to bartering amid economic and jobs crisis and COVID-19

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As Lebanon’s economy continues to worsen by the day, people who are desperate to get necessities for their families are resorting to trading their personal belongings through a social media group.

With the Lebanese lira devaluating to over 8,000 to $1 on the parallel market and the price of goods doubling or even tripling in some instances, the Facebook group “Lebanon is Bartering” has exploded with membership.

The group, founded by Hassan Hasna earlier this year, allows for members to trade their belongings with others in the group, but, as of late, some members have taken to using the group to trade their possessions to get necessities such as food and, most often, milk for their children.

“We decided to do something to help these people by doing the barter thing,” Hasna told Al-Arabiya English. “Whatever you have that you don’t need, you may exchange it for stuff that you do need. People have stuff in their homes that they don’t need as well, but they don’t want anything in return. Now people are asking for food.”

Bartering for food

The most common item that people are asking for is Nido, a milk powder substitute for children, with the offer in return usually being clothes or shoes. However, some are going even further and offering food that has a long shelf life, such as flour and rice.

“When my son was out of milk, and I started begging people to lend me money to buy him milk, no one was able to give me money,” Jihan Mroweh said of her first time using the Facebook group. “I decided then that I needed to provide him with milk in any way possible because he can’t survive without food. There were good people who were able to give me some of their mouneh (food supplies) to trade because I really don’t have anything else to trade.”

Mroweh does not work and her husband lost his job at a shoe factory after it closed. She has five children, including a baby who is just over a year old. With no one in the family working and the worsening economic situation, every day for her brings the fear of running out of supplies or one of her children getting sick.

“We now cannot afford 90 percent of food,” she explained, “I sleep and wakeup praying that I’m not out of diapers and milk, because I cannot afford to buy new ones. I cannot afford to buy my kids any new clothes or shoes. My kids crave chips and juice, but even that we cannot afford.”

Helpless and hopeless

In early June, AFP published photographs showing Lebanese standing in front of their empty refrigerators to highlight the growing food insecurity throughout the country. This, coupled with people being forced to trade their belongings to get food and other necessities, has created a sense of helplessness for those who are watching all of this occur.

“I saw this group and people trying to exchange products to get baby formula, milk or for diapers,” Luna Safwan, a freelance journalist, told Al Arabiya English. “It sort of made me feel helpless because no matter how much we write about it or you try as a human to help others, when you see that it has come down to this, it just really made me feel helpless.”

Hasna was also taken aback when he saw the desperation of the people who are using his group.

“People are giving clothing, they are giving items from their household just to ask for food in return and to ask for baby milk, diapers or groceries,” he stated. “This is really shocking that we have come to a level where you have to take from your own items, your own belongings and valuables, to get food in return.”

When Mroweh’s family discovered what she was doing, they were “very upset” but did not stop her as they understood the increasingly dire situation.

With the economic situation worsening, Hasna predicts that the number of people joining and using the group will continue to grow. He added that despite how much he wants to help, he is limited in what he can do.

“There are a lot of cases where you feel that they are so desperate, but I cannot do anything,” he explained. “I can’t open the group fully for humanitarian things because that’s not my goal. My goal is not to do a charity group. My goal is for the Lebanese people to stay strong and to work together hand-in-hand to get through this bad period.”

Back to the streets

Safwan argued that people need to go back to the streets to demand change or else risk this desperation becoming the new normal.

“We’ve been seeing people look in the trash for food, people posing in front of empty fridges, trade their goods on Facebook groups,” she stated. “I feel that this couldn’t get any worse, but this country keeps surprising us. Either people go back to the streets and demand a full reform focusing on corruption or we’re going to be stuck in this for a while and all of this will be the new normal.”

For people like Mroweh, they are pessimistic and scared of the future, believing that the situation will only worsen.“My dream is to leave Lebanon because there is no hope,” Mroweh said solemnly, “I just want my kids to have a good future because we can’t always rely on people to help.”

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