Lebanese Resort to Bartering as Crisis Deepens

Illustration by Rawand Issa, published previously at The Legal Agenda.

In a country where the currency has crumbled past the point of repair and inflation has skyrocketed to 17%, many Lebanese find themselves unable to afford their most basic needs. It seems like the Lebanese public has gone to their last resort: the ancient art of bartering.

A new Facebook page has emerged, لبنان يقايض (Lubnan Yoqayid), i.e. “Lebanon swaps/trades” on May 30, 2020, and has since amassed 12.7K members and over 500 posts. It is a page designed for anyone living in Lebanon to post what they’re willing to trade, whether goods or services, with what they’re willing to trade them for. Bartering is one of the oldest forms of trade, dating back to 6000 BC, and while it’s largely no longer in large-scale use (except in select places and circumstances), society seems to bounce back to it when money is no longer on the table, like during the Great Depression when people bartered to survive. 

Since the final months of 2019, the Lebanese Lira has been devaluating at an accelerating rate and currently stands at a rate of $1 = 8,000 LBP in the market while the official bank exchange rate is still $1 = 1,507 LBP. The disparity between the official rate and market rate has led to the inflation in prices of most basic necessities, and a shortage in others. The massive shortage of dollars in the country due to the collapse of the banking sector has also increased the price of importing and, for a country with barely any local production, inflation seems to have no ceiling. Additionally, the lockdown imposed to contain the spread of COVID-19 in March which persisted until the first week of June resulted in a spike in unemployment which did not go well with the already existing economic crisis. Savings in Lebanese liras practically lost all their value while savings in dollars (what colloquially became known as “lollars”) were stuck in their respective bank accounts. To be more accurate, dollar deposits are merely computed numbers “with no corresponding currency.”

The Facebook bartering page provides a platform for people to receive the goods they need but can no longer afford due to the aforementioned reasons. The founder of the group Hassan Husnah describes the initiative as “a group that exceeds differences. Our only goal is helping each other.” In an interview with Sky News Arabia, Husnah expressed how he believes everyone has something to offer, and instead of letting the Lebanese go destitute and start begging for things they need, they could start trading amongst each other.  

The idea has proven to be effective, with many people receiving what they asked for, whether they traded the Google Chromecast for two bags of milk or children’s clothing for some thyme and olive oil. Many people are also offering their goods for free, inviting those who need them to take them for nothing in return, like essential food supplies and kitchen sets

While it’s good to see people use social media to help each other in the hardest, most challenging times Lebanon has observed in over 30 years, it’s also heartbreaking to witness the economic disasters that have led people to these pages. There are people trading their beds for some food and others desperately trying to offer what little they have for medical attention for their children. There are countless posts asking for baby food and children’s clothing in return for cups and plates. 

This isn’t tragedy or poverty porn. Lebanese citizens are all aware of the multiple crises the country is going through and how it’s affecting its people. There are constant reminders wherever you look. However, it’s important to examine the extent the government is willing to go to ignore its citizens’ pleas. The unemployment rate is rumored to be over 40%, though there is no definite data. Over a million Lebanese were living under the poverty line in November 2019, with no recent data yet determined, though the number now is undoubtedly higher with the economic crisis worsening by the day. The World Bank estimates we’re gearing towards a 50% poverty rate

The Facebook page shows a community of people working together to beat a system that is refusing to give them their basic necessities. A system that has forced people to protest in the streets amidst a pandemic for food, water, and electricity while their money has been stolen by corrupt politicians and lost in the banking labyrinth of interest rates and bad financial ventures. The page shows that all we really have is each other and all you and I can really do is offer the help we can, no matter how small. Shop from your neighborhood dekanje, tip properly, volunteer at an organization you know is truly helping, give money to local initiatives, and donate things you don’t use anymore. While it is frustrating and draining that our communities have to resort to little things like this to stay afloat, community-building is our one asset while the government watches idly.

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