Lara Baltaji, Hadi Knaiber, Batoul Ramadan, Abdallah Yahfoufi, Nour Azakir, Herbert Pritzki, Shadi Youssef
Background about the Lebanese Crisis:
For nearly three years now, Lebanon has been facing the most devastating financial crisis in the modern era. The crisis started in October 2019 and aggravated by the economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and by the massive Port explosion on August 4, 2020. As a result, the black market dollar exchange of the Lebanese Lira increased from 1515 L.L. (before the crisis) to around 40,000 L.L(today) marking an almost 2500% increase.
You can find below a visual that shows the change of the official LBP/Dollar exchange rate over time until this November 2022.
This huge increase came with countless economic impacts on inflation, unemployment and poverty. Lebanon’s severe crisis which was blamed on the government’s corruption and failure has led to massive impacts on the Lebanese currency causing extreme poverty, unemployment, medicine shortage, electricity shortage, fuel shortage, malnutrition and much more. You can find below a visual that shows the change of the Food Inflation and the Food Consumer Price Index with the LBP/Dollar Exchange Rate over time until this March 2022.
The huge inflation was directly reflected on the prices of basic food commodities in Lebanon ever since the start of the economic crisis in 2019. What is meant by basic food commodities is the minimum raw agricultural or animal products sufficient to satisfy the nutrition needs of an average household which comprise of:
Cereals and Tubers (rice, wheat, corn, starch)
Meat, Fish, Eggs and Seafood
Dairy (milk, cheese, labne)
Oil and Fats
Vegetables and Fruits
Sugar and Salt
The slope of increase before 2021, however, was quite subtle due to the fact that food commodities were subsidised by the government back then. As the Central Bank started to run out of resources to keep the subsidies, the government lifted them in March 2021. That is when the increase in prices of basic food commodities started to follow a much steeper slope. The below interactive visual shows the change in average prices of food commodities in Lebanon over the years.
According to the World Bank, food price fluctuations between Lebanese markets are caused by the Lebanese government’s “deliberately inadequate policy responses”. Due to the inadequate policy responses by the Lebanese government and due to the fact that Lebanon follows a free market economy, the problem of increased food prices started to worsen as not only are prices increasing, but now they are further inconsistent between markets in the different Lebanese regions . This adds an additional overwhelming problem to the many hardships Lebanese people are facing today.
In order to provide evidence for this issue, we decided to visit two supermarkets in Beirut and observe the differences in food prices. The variation in prices of the same food products was absolutely surprising. The below figure shows the price receipts of the two supermarkets.
Our next step was to explore two datasets issued by World Bank and World Food Programme Price Database. Our data explorations go hand in hand with our observed hypothesis which reveals that “there exist extreme and unexplained variations in food prices around markets in different Lebanese regions”.
The variation in prices of different food commodities has been an existing situation for many years now in Lebanon. This situation has exacerbated ever since the beginning of the economic crisis in 2019 as the price control responses have become inadequate. The following dashboard shows a comparison of prices of the different food categories between the different Lebanese districts over the years until 2021
The following bar graph shows a comparison of prices of specific food products between the different Lebanese districts over the years until 2022
Below we present the percentage difference of some food products between different Lebanese districts in 2022 (until October):
The average price of a one kilogram bag of wheat flour in Mount Lebanon was 28,000 LBP whereas in Baabak-El Hermel 10,000 LBP, recording a 95% difference.
The average price of a 160 gram Akkawi cheese in the South was 60,000 LBP whereas in Akkar 40,000 LBP, recording a 40% difference for cheese.
The average price of a can of powdered milk (2.5 kg) in Mount Lebanon was 325,000 LBP whereas in Akkar 210,000 LBP, recording a 40% difference for milk.
The average price of a 3.6 Litre gallon of olive oil in the South was 500,000 LBP whereas in El Nabatieh 430,000 LBP, recording a 15% difference for oil.
And the list of unexplained price variations between districts just keeps growing and growing.
Finally, in order to further prove our hypothesis, we conducted interviews with random Lebanese residents walking on Beirut’s seaside. When asked whether they were noticing price variations between supermarkets, most interviewees agreed that there exist obvious price variations of basic food commodities between different supermarkets. They added that this variation is not related to the location of the markets, for in many cases they have noticed that even markets lying walking steps away from one another vary in food prices. This means that the price variations cannot be explained by the products’ cost of transportation. It is only explained by the fact that there exists no governmental supervision.
In Lebanon, there are laws that protect consumers from monopoly and from overpricing. However, as with many other laws, the government is unable to strongly implement these laws and monitor the prices of the supermarkets especially in the areas that are far from Beirut. For that, we propose a website, which can later be developed into a mobile application. The website shows the official prices of basic food products in the Lebanese market which are regularly updated by the Ministry of Economy whenever a significant change in the LBP exchange rate occurs. It also displays the prices of these same products in different Lebanese supermarkets. This way, Lebanese consumers will be able to check the prices of products before they go shopping, and thus can tell which supermarkets are following the official prices specified by the ministry and which supermarkets are overpriced.
We are working on involving Lebanese consumers in our website. As we all know, the Ministry of Economy has a limited number of employees. Thus they will not be able to monitor the prices in all the Lebanese shops. A better way for monitoring prices in different supermarkets would be to include consumers in the process by giving them the chance to report prices directly on our website. This means that consumers will act as data collectors, and thus can contribute to the success of this project. Now, the ministry will be able to track the overpriced supermarkets and take the necessary measures.
We also hope to develop the website idea into a mobile application, which is a proposition heavily backed by the Ministry of Economy.
The application concept we came up with to tackle the problem needed to be validated in order to be put into action. We needed means to check if our ideology could in fact lead to a change in the real world or it is only a theory on a piece of paper.
Therefore, we decided to take the view points of two parties:
The Lebanese citizens which are the potential future users of our application in order to check if they are actually willing to use it and if it could lead to a change in their lives and to the country in general
The General Director of the Lebanese Ministry of Economy and Trade, Dr. Mohamad Abou Haidar to assess the practicality and the feasibility of the concept by a professional in the field.
In the streets of Beirut, we went down asking random people about the issue and the proposed solution. All in all, people supported the idea and many claimed that they would be using the application without any doubt and believed that it would make a positive change in the pricing system in Lebanon.
On 25 November 2022, our team visited the director general of the Lebanese Ministry of Economy and Trade, Dr. Mohamad Abou Haidar. We interviewed Dr. Abou Haidar about how practical it is to do such an application and how much it could lead to change and the interview was recorded. Dr. Abou Haidar claimed that this application would lead to a significant change in several aspects. First, this application will help fight corruption in terms of pricings because it will be directly synced to the ministry, so any abnormal pricings will be directly reported to the ministry and the issue will be transferred to the responsible authorities that are able to take any legal action. The ministry also is trying to work on implementing online services that protect consumers’ rights along with the UNDP and other organizations. So, this application will be aligned with the goal of the ministry, since it is online-based. In addition to that, it will play a role in controlling the pricings in the market since it substitutes the need for the huge number of employees and the human resources needed that, no matter how many, cannot roam around the entire supermarkets and stores in all the Lebanese regions. He also said that the complaints of the people will reach the ministry in a more efficient and effective way, because they are via the application and therefore, the ministry can know about the concerns and the issues in a much faster way. Finally, Dr. Mohamad summarized the idea by being a “win-win situation” for both the ministry and the consumers. This is because it will fulfil the needs of the consumers by knowing the exact pricings of the items in any supermarket with a press of a button, will ensure that the rights of the consumers are protected, and will lead to the right selection of the place to be visited. It will also help the ministry in terms of protecting consumers’ rights, censorship and supervision.
The concept website was presented to the General Director of the Lebanese Ministry of Economy and again, the solution was validated and approved by the ministry by providing us the full support in order to create this website as soon as possible in order to help the people followed by the country in general.
Ending with a future perspective, we believe that this problem is crucial to be solved in the very near future because of the damage it is causing in several aspects ranging from economic, financial to social. We, the people and the ministry have bets that our application concept could be a positive game changer in this issue. Solving this problem marks one of the battles against corruption, and is an attempt to make this country perfect, again.
Contributors: Bashar Salha, Mohamad Kheir El Daouk, Rani Abu Dehn, Raoul El Khazen, Rima Wehbe.
Road Safety: Background Information
The World Health Organization estimates that around 1.3 million people die and that 30 to 50 million are injured each year due to road crashes. Despite having road safety laws instituted in almost every country, road accidents are still the leading cause of death for young people aged 5-29 years old.
In Lebanon, this problem is felt by most because of the chaotic nature of our roads. Anyone who has experienced being a passenger or a driver in Lebanon is aware of the bumpy roads, the absent traffic lights, the disregard for speed limits and safety regulations, the lack of protection for walking pedestrians, the dark tunnels and the unlit autoroutes in the night. According to the World Bank, the traffic and roads situation in Lebanon is now “amongst the worst globally” whereby it has become much more dangerous than it previously was following the start of the economic crisis in 2019.
We believe that the deteriorating status of Lebanon’s economic and social development will continue to aggravate the issue of unsafe roads and unsafe driving. So, our aim for this study is to firstly showcase to the fullest extent the details of this problem through the use of primary and secondary data sources and secondly to design an impactful solution which can be validated by relevant stakeholders.
Below is our linked interactive dashboard which showcases the details of the problem visually.
Our overall findings and comments can be summarized as follows:
1. The youth is most prone to having accidents and dying in these accidents. This is from the fact that people who are aged from 15 till 29 constituted the largest share of deaths from accidents.
2. On a geographical level, we observed that the accidents are majorly happening in the caza of Mount Lebanon and Beirut. Moreover, the bulk of the deaths are happening in the district of Baabda and Metn.
3. Collisions involving pedestrians are the most dangerous.
4. On average, people make accidents in the spring and summer breaks. From a time perspective, these accidents are evident to increase in the evening, especially on weekends.
5. On average, for 86% of all accidents, the driver is at fault. In 13% of the crashes, the pedastrian is at fault. Also, the major reason behind accidents is overspeeding, then we have reasons related to drivers and pedastirans not following road safety regulation.
The comparison between the years of 2014 and 2015 shows the impact of instituting a new law and enforcing it. As shown in the introductory dashboard, Law 243, released in April 2015, greatly influenced the traffic situation and decreased the numbers of accidents and casualties to about half the previous values.
We propose four short-term solutions that can be implemented in a close period of time and two long-term solutions which require governmental and organizational cooperation and attention.
Our Short-Term Solutions:
1. Design and launch awareness campaigns for the young people who are 15 years old or more and will be eligible to drive, especially for the 15—29 age bracket. These awareness campaigns must be designed specifically to grab the attention of the young adults and to make them sensitive to the dangers of road crashes.
2. Place reflective signs on highways, dark mountain roads and tunnels. These reflective signs are cost efficient yet effective in guiding the driver in dark places.
3. Make the traffic lights solar powered. Since Lebanon has a limited budged, these traffic lights must be placed by according to priority. For instance, we must first set them on roundabouts and intersections. These places are more prone to traffic and illegal driving and overtaking.
4. Restructure the current penalty system for road violations. These penalties must follow the current economic and foreign exchange rate conditions in order to represent an actual threat to illegal drivers.
Our Long-Term Solutions:
1. Obliging citizens with theoretical studies and technical training related to cars. This is achieved by creating a driving school which ensures that drivers are equipped which adequate driving skills and safety knowledge.
2. Creating and modifying laws to penalize people who violate road safety measures. These laws can start by a point-based driving license, where drivers will lose points every time, they violate the law. After losing all these points, the authority is ought to retract the driving license.
It is imperative that we combat this problem and that we share our findings with relevant stakeholders such as the youth, the ISF and the concerned NGOs in order to encourage this community to stay committed in their effort to rectify the Lebanese traffic issue. Hence, we have decided to email ISF representative General Imad Osman with a link to our dashboard which we will also send back to KunHadi representative Ms. Lina Gebrane who sat with us to validate our ideas.
Finally, we wish to stress on the importance of small actions that we as pedestrians and drivers can take to make our experience on the road less chaotic and stressful, being alert today means being alive tomorrow.
Contributors: Amin Ghobar, Basilio Diaz, Daniel Raidan, Sally Harb, Stephany Said, and Wissam Malaeb.
Wheat Supply and Food Insecurity in Lebanon
A principal element to boost food security in developing countries is matching the demand for wheat as it is one of the world’s most crucial staple crops. Lebanon, with almost 46% of its households being food insecure, imports around 80% of its food needs and is highly dependent on soft wheat to make Arabic flatbread.
Due to the crippling economic crisis in Lebanon, the diminishing foreign reserves to subsidize wheat imports, the Beirut Port Blast that led to the destruction of the grain silos, and the Russian invasion of Ukraine that had an effect on the supply chain and the wheat prices, Lebanon has been struggling with a negative wheat supply shock.
Lebanon’s Current Situation and the Effects on Wheat Resources and Supplies
The country is facing one of the most devastating economic crises globally since the mid-19th century. The Lebanese currency’s more than 90% value loss against the US Dollar, the inflation rate that exceeded 200%, and the grain reserves lost after the destruction of the Beirut Port – that stored around 85% of the country’s cereals with a maximum capacity of 120,000 metric tons of grain – contributed to the problem at hand. Additionally, Russia and Ukraine supply Lebanon with 70% – 80% of its wheat demand. After the invasion, wheat prices increased drastically and Lebanon, a bankrupt country, was unable to fight in the bidding war.
Moreover, the smuggling of subsidized flour and wheat to the Syrian market and the need to fulfill the nutritious needs of the 1.3 million Syrian refugees on the Lebanese grounds made the food security response an immediate priority.
In terms of Lebanon’s agricultural nature, the country relies on the import of wheat because available land that is viable for farming is not enough to meet the country’s demands and make Lebanon self-sufficient. The consumption demand in Lebanon is topped at 450,000 metric tons, and local wheat production only produces around 10-15% of such demand.
Lebanon needs to start implementing short-term and long-term fixes as the citizens are grappling to afford the increasing prices of bread in a country with a limited number of reserves.
Therefore, we came up with solutions that are divided into two levels of fixes
Pursue avenues to continue subsidizing the price of bread. An example of that would be the “Lebanon Wheat Emergency Response Project” where a $150 million loan from the World Bank was taken that will be used in funding the imports for approximately six to nine months.
Support farmers and develop irrigation programs to help increase local production of the wheat market up until it makes up 50% of Lebanon’s total supply. However, Lebanon can only have a 10% to 15% increase every year according to a study done by the Ministry of Agriculture. This means that it could take 5 to 6 years to reach the goal stated above.
In addition to that, rebuilding Lebanon’s national grain reserve by reconstructing the Beirut port silos and building two new storage silos nearby is another solution. This would cost $100 million and would create six months’ worth of reserves at any given time. Many countries have shown interest in helping Lebanon build those.
Finally, turning to the Ministry of Agriculture’s large and rent-free warehouses in Beqaa should be considered, as the government has been relying on private mills for storage which keeps storage levels on a day-to-day basis and paves the way for black markets. These warehouses only need some maintenance and would be ready for use.
Abu Mazen, a 60 year old Lebanese man spends his days searching for a job opportunity in order to be able to provide to his disabled wife, and to make use of his capabilities.
Em Mazen holds her tears everyday while talking to Mazen, who is now working abroad due to lack of stability and security in his country, and to be able to support his family.
Sarah, the sister of Mazen, is trying to find a way to tell her parents that she won’t be able to visit Lebanon these holidays, because she is still not allowed to take vacations from her work, and because she can’t afford it.
This is the story of thousands of Lebanese homes. Who from us hasn’t said goodbye to a dear family member, friend, or even colleague in the past 4 years? Why? Economic crises, political corruption, Covid-19, lack of basic needs, currency inflation, third biggest explosion in the world, loss of all their savings and homes… and yet, the resilient part of Lebanese – the one who can still afford it – is still trying survive in this country.
Emigration in Lebanon
Emigration has long been a part of Lebanon’s history. Through different emigration waves, the economic situation of the country served as the “push factor” to leave. Amid the outburst of Lebanon’s aggravating political and economic crises, it is believed that a new significant wave of emigrants has unfolded marked by an increase of 4.5 times in the number of emigrants from Lebanon, between 2020 and 2021.
Lebanon has known large waves of emigration, making out of the Lebanese diaspora one of the largest in the world and is now estimated to be larger than the country’s population itself. The emigration waves in Lebanon are usually classified in three main waves. The first emigration wave goes back to years 1970 and 1975, where the number of emigrants reached 10,000 up from 8,000 between 1960 and 1970, and 3,000 between 1945 and 1960. The second wave goes back to 1975 till 1989 during the civil war, where almost 990,000 people left the country, accounting for 40% of the total population. The third wave is more recent starting by 2019 and still ongoing.
This third ongoing wave of mass emigration is said to be the most severe and is anticipated to create a persistent drag on Lebanon’s economy and disrupts its growth, with more than 79,134 Lebanese people emigrating in 2021.
Lebanese Brain Drain
Lebanese professionals, academics and youth are choosing to leave the country for better opportunities abroad. This phenomenon is popularly known as brain drain. Brain drain has numerous and interconnected effects on both the country and its companies, which usually blurs the line between cause and effect.
Recent reports are highlighting that 20 percent of Lebanese doctors have left or are planning to leave while it is estimated that over 1,500 members of faculty and staff have either been let go or have left the American University of Beirut and its subsidiary medical center during the past two years.
To better understand the push factors aggravating the brain drain phenomenon in Lebanon, we are exploring previous studies to identify the main determinants of the decision to emigrate. The tackled studies highlight the role of aggregate economy, political stability and the environment. These studied factors are a reflection of the country’s economic environment mainly economic activity, political stability and employment levels.
Lebanon is currently witnessing a significant number of political and economic problems; we will focus mainly on government’s corruption, slow economic growth and youth unemployment rate.
1. Government’s Corruption: Lebanon ranks 154th of 180 countries on the 2021 Corruption Perceptions Index reported by Transparency International with a score of 24 points out of 100. Over recent years, Lebanon’s score plummeted from 30 in 2012 to 24 in 2021.
2. Economic Growth: The unfolding economic and financial crisis which has started in 2019 has been further aggravated by the dual economic effect of the COVID-19 pandemic and the massive explosion of Beirut Port in August 2020. Based on the World’s Bank data, GDP per capita dropped by 36.5% between 2019 and 2021, and Lebanon was reclassified by the World Bank as a lower-middle income country, down from upper middle-income status.
3. Youth Unemployment: Based on the labor force survey conducted in January 2022, almost a third of Lebanon’s labor force is out of work, while the unemployment rate among the youth (15-24 years old) has reached 47.8 percent. The survey reveals that the unemployment rate increased to 29.6 percent in 2022, while the labor force participation rate is at 43.4 percent.
The trendline of Lebanese emigrants desire to leave
Emigration by Gender and Age:
The Lebanese most willing to leave are the ones who are at an active age (25-44) followed by youth (15-25). It is observed that 42.18% of the Lebanese aged between 25-44 want to emigrate out of which 44.54% are female and 40.08% are male.
Reasons of Emigration:
Out of the studied group, more than 88% of the surveyed people stated that the current economic situation in Lebanon is the reason why they want to leave. Another 4.46% indicated that their desire to leave is backed up by their wish to study abroad while another 2.27% claimed that they are mainly considering leaving to find better job opportunities abroad. Other reasons to emigrate is the reunion with family or getting married, but this represents a mere 0.98% of the respondents.
Starting with little to no available data on the panoply of brain drain in Lebanon, the above data validated two important points to our study. First, that indeed the people who are mostly concerned by this third wave of emigration are the youth and active population (age group: 15-25 and 25-44). Second, that the key factor pushing Lebanese to leave is the current economic situation and the pursuit of better opportunities abroad. The deterioration in the economic situation is dire and could become even worse if corrective measures and safety nets are not introduced.
A call for action
The first imperative for policy makers is to create opportunity for both its local talents and the highly skilled Lebanese who are living abroad.
A- Retain Local Talent:
Analysis of jobs with open vacancies
The Lebanese Government can make an analysis/study to find out what are the sectors that have the highest employment need in Lebanon, and encourage high school students to enroll in related majors and attend workshops organized by the government specifically to train them for these jobs. This could be a long term solution to keep the educated people in Lebanon.
Increased investments in public schools and universities
Public schools and universities are home for more than 53% of the Lebanese population who cannot afford to enroll in private schools and universities. However, these institutions are not well-equipped nor taken care of: professors are not well paid and therefore are always on strikes, facilities are not available, classes are not well organized… Students who graduate from these schools are already fed up with the situation, and are automatically on the look for new opportunities outside their country.
By investing in these schools and universities, the government would be giving these students better opportunities and retain them to invest later on in their country.
Promote innovation and startup ecosystem
“It takes a village to raise a child, and it takes an ecosystem to scale an innovation.” Government agencies should promote innovation by offering incentives and loans to entrepreneurs who would like to start their own business by creating new services or products. The rise of these new companies would lead to new employment opportunities and therefore hiring local talents in their country, in addition to an economic upswing.
Collaboration of the Lebanese Government with Organizations like WorldBank to create projects to improve living conditions in Lebanon (provide electricity, clean water, etc…)
Lebanon has hit rock-bottom after almost 3 years of economic crises, increase in poverty, and most importantly loss of its basic needs including electricity, water, and fuel. This has been determined to be one of the main reasons of the brain drain. Therefore, the government can collaborate with organizations like World Bank to secure a budget to be able to create projects that would enable the Government to provide constant electricity to the citizens, in addition to other major needs.
B- Attract High Skilled Émigrés:
Support networking and recruitment of the Lebanese diaspora:
Lebanon can encourage and support the networking of its diaspora through its international delegations (e.g., embassies, consulates). The government can start benefitting from its emigrants before reaching the level where it can attract their return. A network of talented and skilled Lebanese emigrants can benefit both the government and the private sector through leveraging the business connections, knowledge and expertise of the Lebanese of the world.
Leverage Émigrés expertise to formulate government policy:
It is necessary to recognize the large and untapped scientific, innovative and creative potential of Lebanese living abroad. The government needs to foster a rapprochement with its expat community with highly qualified individuals and actively encourage the creation of projects in their home country. The expertise of Lebanese emigrants can be leveraged as a resource in formulating government policies as they can serve as advisers to government officials to build adequate measures to incentivize the return of émigrés to invest in their home country.
Database of Émigrés:
Building up on the two first measures, the Ministry of emigrants can establish an emigrant database to serve as a track tool to allocate Lebanese talents abroad. The Ministry can collaborate with interested stakeholders to advertise for key jobs and positions that require the return of high-skilled Lebanese. The Ministry of Education can also recruit Lebanese emigrants as visiting lecturers for the country’s universities.
Policymakers need to market the attractiveness of Lebanon as an investment market to its emigrants. This means considering specific return campaigns centered around major technology projects; mobilizing targeted human resources for earmarked projects and creating attractive and favorable conditions to attract professionals who are abroad to engage in the development of innovation in Lebanon.
Public institutions and the national finance and corporate sector are invited to open up to investors from the expatriate community, and to adopt, to this end, effective mechanisms to sponsor, accompany and partner with Lebanese residing abroad.
Conclusion & Recommendations:
To conclude, based on our study, we can confidently recommend an increase in the government engagement to create deals and projects to improve living conditions in Lebanon. This would make both Lebanese living in Lebanon stay and those abroad return. More efforts from the government and its partners need to be made to cushion the economic shock that would be felt in the coming years due to the ongoing emigration wave.
Another recommendation is for the government to take proper measure to monitor the ongoing mass emigration by collecting sufficient and updated data on Lebanese emigrants. The availability of accurate data would help in understanding the panoply and the seriousness of this ongoing problem. The involved stakeholders are called to take matters in hands and act accordingly to improve access to information with the objective to limit the brain drain problem and contain its future ramifications.
Contributors: Haidar Noureddine, Christy BouMansour, Haya Mouakeh, Jennifer Sabra, Hanine Charanek, Mohamad Kanj
The Downfall of the Lebanese Lira
Abu Ali, a farmer living in Beqaa valley in Lebanon was facing problems with his apples crops after he was forced to cut the pesticides used because of the price increase after the Lebanese crisis.
He wasn’t sure how to protect his crops after he put a lot of effort during the year and now he is worried because he doesn’t have any source of income anymore.
Ibrahim Tarshishy, who is also a farmer in Beqaa valley, was not able to sell all his apple crops where half of them got moldy. “To be honest, I don’t expect the days ahead to be good. I see before us more depression, sadness and poverty”, said Ibrahim Tarshishy, a farmer in Riyak region, Lebanon”
Like these two cases, lot of farmers were facing like these problems, and no one was able to help them, and as we reach the conclusion of 2022, Lebanon’s financial woes are rapidly approaching the critical stage, and the Lira exchange rate is reaching a breaking record.
The Lebanese Lira exchange rate decreased because the supply for dollar was not enough to match the demand, and the central bank did not have enough reserves to interfere and match it with the demand. The demand for dollars was mainly driven by the aim to complete imports transactions. Since 2002, the net trade balance was negative, and the deficit was growing, reaching very high levels to around $14 Billion in 2014. This means that imports were higher than exports, and so the dollars outflow was bigger than the inflow.
To maintain the exchange rate fixed, as it was the case earlier, Lebanon used to depend on two main sources for dollars inflow, net transfers sources, and financial account source. First, Lebanon used to depend on transfers which includes grants, loans, and personal remittances. The graph below shows that net transfers were bringing a significant amount of dollars. However, this source is very unstable. It is very fluctuating, and it depends highly on uncontrolled factors like the help from other countries that we can not control as shown in the graph.
The financial account consists mainly of Eurobonds, and investments in companies, and currency & deposits coming from abroad into the Lebanese banks. As shown, this account was a huge source for dollar inflow. However, again, it is very unstable, and very fluctuating. There are almost no two similar points that are equal. Further, it depends highly on uncontrolled factors. For example, after Iraq invasion, so many Iraqis transferred their money into the Lebanese banks, and so the dollar inflow increased, but this happened because an event that we do not have control over it.
These two accounts together were balancing the dollar demand needed from the imports. In cases of mismatch between dollar supply and demand, the central bank used to interfere by buying or selling dollars in the market to keep the exchange rate fixed. However, in 2018, we had the second largest BOP deficit as shown below, which means the second largest dollar shortage, but the central bank did not have enough reserves which caused the current crisis.
In summary, the crisis started mainly in 2018. However, the root reason behind it is not the absence of reserves, but that Lebanon was depending mainly on unstable sources of inflow for foreign currencies, which was very risky, and unstable to maintain because of the fluctuations.
To further enrich Lebanon’s economy, we introduce our project that aims on focusing on sustainable economic development that relies on an integrated export system, naturally creating tons of job opportunities by enhancing Lebanon’s agricultural sector due to the presence of fertile land, abundant water resources, good weather conditions .
The project will control the process from harvesting to exporting, and starting with enforcing regulations that benefit the farmers instead of making it harder for them to export their goods, implementing technical guides that monitors farmers’ techniques into adopting good agricultural transactions, as well as adopting training workshops administered agricultural engineers also supplying them with the latest and greatest equipment that regulate water usage while limiting their use of unsustainable substances, such as harmful pesticides, and providing alternatives that are viable.
Now, since Saudi Arabia is infamous for its totally dry lands and a central region that is characterized by extremely hot and dry summers, it harbors a very limited agricultural sector and thus heavily relies on importing olive oil as well as basic produce. We should make use of the current improving relationship between Saudi Arabia and Lebanon and prioritize exportation to this country due to the low and reasonable shipping fees.
The olive oil market in Saudi Arabia needs a lot of importation as a change in dietary habits throughout the entire country has spurred the consumption of it. Saudi Arabia started importing about 30,000 tons annually while only producing 20% of its own olive oil, but that’s slowly changing as it’s heading towards an independent olive oil market realm that’ll eventually decrease the exports. We won’t focus on increasing the imports from Lebanon but on decreasing the shipping and customs fees that were introduced in June of 2020.
As we mentioned above, a huge change in dietary habits and healthy eating have welcomed Saudi lifestyles, thus making produce, especially apples, way higher in demand. Lebanon exports apples to Saudi Arabia in relatively low quantities as opposed to other countries because of strict pesticide regulations. To increase the exports, we should introduce strict laws that modulate their usage.
Lebanon’s avocado exports were totally banned in Saudi Arabia because of drug smuggling fiascos, which led the Saudi government to enforce harsh consequences that will only be salvageable by an examining process that helps avoid any trials of smuggling drugs.
Cyprus makes a great exporter as well, as it only holds 14.52% of agricultural land that is extremely affected by small temperature inconsistencies. Our focus on Cyprus is mainly due to the distance from Lebanon, which is only 26 kilometers, making it extremely easy for shipments to move within those countries.
The olive oil market in Cyprus is in a desperately high demand since the consumption of olive oil is three times greater than what the country produces. Because of this, we should encourage exports from Lebanon in a way that competes with both Germany and Spain, since they’re offering their olive oil at similar and lower prices.
Considering Cyprus is one of the most countries with apple shortage, it exports most of its apple supply excluding Lebanon from its exportations because of a heavily regulated pesticide system, solving that issue requires us introducing strict pesticide laws, after that we can start exporting to Cyprus at the same rate and price that we export to Turkey.
Because of the free trade agreement between European countries, Lebanon is unable to compete equally with European countries at exporting avocados, yet we are able to compete with Egypt, which offers a lower price. To solve this, we can try and export at a lower price than Egypt.
GameStop was heading towards bankruptcy, with hedge funds taking short positions in companies like GameStop, in which they borrow shares of the stock at a certain price under the expectation that its market value will be worth less when it’s time to actually pay for those borrowed shares. In other words, they are betting on the stock price dropping, however something unexpected happened, the Gamestop stocks surged being driven by retail investors — individuals who buy and sell stocks for their own gains, as opposed to professional investors working on Wall Street — on the subreddit r/WallStreetBets (WSB), a community 2.9 million-strong decided to buy up as much shares of stocks as a joke. That ended up reviving GameStop, incurring massive losses on the hedge funds, and shaking the stock market. This short squeeze – as it’s referred to – is not uncommon but it doesn’t tend to play out in this public or dramatic a manner leading this case to be the talk of every news outlet at the time.
This case perfectly encapsulated the volatility and unpredictability of the stock market, as well as how it can be influenced heavily by the everyday person. Such cases also emerged with Eli Lilly and their Twitter fiasco more recently.
As such we recommend the deployment of a brand followup division for social media from companies, as well as more rigorous bylaws implemented within social media platforms in order to control, contain, and possibly prevent such situations.
Omar El Khatib
Karim El Hajj
Bassel Abou Zahr