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.
Lebanon has been historically exporting skilled workers to many regions in the world including Gulf, Africa, Europe, and North America. For more than 10 years, the Unemployment rate in Lebanon has been increasing to reach 11.35% in 2019 (from 6.35% in 2009). Since the Economic crisis in 2019, the rate has dramatically increased to reach 14.5% in 2021.
To dig deeper into unemployment in Lebanon we can see that the citizens with advanced education (holders of a university degree or above) are prone more to unemployment, in comparison to intermediate (secondary schooling) and basic education (primary schooling or below).
So what can we do to solve this?
It is worth mentioning that since the economic crisis in Lebanon in 2019 followed by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Lebanese economy deteriorated severely leading to the closure of many companies and establishments or downsizing in the terms of employees and costs.
Note that among the 3 sectors (services, industry, and agriculture), the services sector was the most to hold the burden of this economical crisis, especially for the restaurants, hotels, banks, and retail traders,…
The employment breakdown as per sector shows that the service sector retained the most employment over years, in contrast to agriculture which only received 11.32% of total employment in 2019.
Therefore, we should try to shift the load of the employment to the other sectors in Lebanon (industry and agriculture) by encouraging the highly educated persons to start their own businesses in this area, which will then lead to more employment from the less educated in these 2 fields.
This will not be attainable unless the government and international entities start incentivizing the youth by providing the below:
Access to finance (through long-term small loans at a minimized rate of interest)
Access to knowledge (by providing proper training to the youth in management and technical expertise)
Access to market (by providing the connections to the youth to sell their products through)
To note that some initiatives from the public have been launched to provide one or more of the above-mentioned, however, the government hasn’t yet started any steps to help.
Authors: Tala Abdul Samad, Nour Al Bidewe, Basman Hariri, Sara Sadaka, Aziz Saliby, Jean-Pierre Sakr
Over the past two years, Lebanon has been witnessing compounded crises such as brain drain, poverty, unemployment, and inequality. On October 3rd, we wanted to listen to the factors that affected the Lebanese the most. Borhan, a 60-year-old man living in Beirut, was one of the people we met. We captured a video with him to show the suffering of the Lebanese since the start of the crisis where he comprehensively described the severe living conditions. As we all know, 2019 was a year of transformation for Lebanon, beginning with the October 17th revolution in 2019, following the global pandemic in 2020, and the rise of inflation. Borhan expressed the feelings of most Lebanese, where he identified the problems that we are facing as residents. Many people mentioned that specific sectors have been hit the most, therefore we would like to perform exploratory data analysis and surveys using different datasets to be able to identify inequalities. We are also interested in using a data-driven approach to identify gaps and inequalities that exist in the education, income, and health sectors.
As a result, we have exploited the World Bank’s World Development Indicatorsand we have identified several indicators which we have used as proxies to measure multidimensional poverty in Lebanon. We chose to have a topic related to the multidimensional poverty index in Lebanon compared to the Arab region. Since the multidimensional poverty index is calculated using three different dimensions, namely education, living conditions, and health, we decided to divide the three different dimensions among us.
Housing is a significant indicator of the multidimensional poverty (MDP), and based on ESCWA calculations, the main indicators to assume whether housing is counted as depreciation for a household or not are ‘Overcrowding rate’ – the percentage of the population living in an overcrowded household – ‘Housing type’ i.e. houses, apartments, row houses, townhouses and duplexes, ‘Sanitation quality’ – availability of handwashing facilities, toilet cleanliness.
Historical data related to housing utilities in Lebanon was gathered from theCentral Administration of Statistics (CAS), which contains significant indicators to measure MDP such as water, electricity, gas, actual rent, furnishings, household equipment and routine household, and others. Data is shown monthly from December 2007 till September 2022.
This data reported many indicators highlighting the increase in poverty on multiple sides. It is worth reporting that the consumer price index (CPI) Housing Utilities in Lebanon records the highest score this September 2022 (363.3) compared to October 2021 (215.9).
Looking at the nutrition level, food inflation was detected as the cost is more skewed to the right for the year 2021-2022; rising food prices reduce the purchasing power of food consumers. Another devaluation could be mentioned in the transportation sector, as the transportation sub-index of the CPI basket in Lebanon increased by 2339 points in September of 2022 (3,725), compared to August 2021 (1,386); the cost of transportation is significantly increasing, resulting in a limitation to access in the transportation sector.
It is worth mentioning that the CPI in Lebanon has more than doubled over the past year, peaking this September 2022 at a score of 1,611.4 against 714.8 in October 2021, and a higher CPI indicates higher inflation. This eventually leads to adjustments in the cost of living and income, which tends to worsen inequality or poverty as it hits income and savings harder for poorer or middle-income households than for wealthy households.
As stated by Joao Martins, MSF Head of Mission in Lebanon, “The crisis in Lebanon has been driven by years of corruption and now we are seeing that this can contribute to the destruction of an entire health system just as effectively as war or a natural disaster”. As a result, it is important to conduct a deep dive analysis on the healthcare system in Lebanon which is a dimension that measures multidimensional poverty.
First we will look at the current health expenditure (%of GDP) which takes into account the public and private health expenditure. By comparing Lebanon to the Arab World, we can notice that the current health expenditure is higher along the mid 2000 with Lebanon having 11% in 2000 while the Arab World having 4%. After that, Lebanon witnessed a decrease and the Arab World an increase reaching a value of 9% and 5%, respectively. The decrease in the expenditure in Lebanon has negatively affected the healthcare system as medication and vaccines are becoming scarce. Looking more closely, we can see in the next graph that the access to immunization has tremendously decreased in Lebanon. On average the access to vaccines (such as DPT, HepB3, and measles) has decreased from 83% (2000) to 67% (2021).
On another hand, we evaluated the demand for private insurance in Lebanon. As we can see, the demand has decreased from 70% (2000) to 45% (2021). This decrease is due to all private insurance companies converting their payment method to fresh U.S. dollars and since the NSSF benefits have diminished due to the economic crisis, most Lebanese people are now left with no proper access to health assistance.
We also conducted a survey on school and university students to analyze access to online education during the COVID-19 pandemic which was also identified as the new normal.
You can be part of our project by filling this online survey. Your answers are highly valuable to the development of our dashboard since the larger the sample size, the more accurate our results would be.
At a later stage, we would like to present our results to our target audience which are UN agencies, local NGOs, and Lebanese ministries. We got a total of 135 responses from all over Lebanon where the survey was populated via social media platforms. The majority of the respondents were university students or graduates. Most of them were unemployed or employed in a full time position.
We asked the respondents about their evaluation to their online experience; the answers rated their experience as poor or fair. On a scale from 1 being a very bad experience and 5 being a very good experience, most of the respondents rated the effectiveness of online learning as 3. In addition, we asked about the preferred type of education; the majority answered the traditional physical method as the most preferred following the hybrid method as second preferred. These answers make us conclude that the online learning experience was not that good in Lebanon. This might be due to the lack of training from the government and the teachers.
To further explore the facilities that were available to ease the online learning experience, we asked the people about their access to devices, electricity and internet. For the devices, the majority had access to devices that were mainly Mobile phones or laptops. Most of the respondents have access to electricity but not all the time while almost all the respondents have access to internet but the variance changed between access all the time and access but not all the time. Most of the respondents reflected that they couldn’t focus and they weren’t serious about their studies during online learning. Furthermore, on a scale from 1 being not at all to 5 being for sure, we asked the people about their willingness to retake the online experience. The answers varied between 1 and 2 mainly.
Finally, we asked the people about the disadvantages of online learning. Some of the responses include poor network, electricity cuttage, procrastination, weak communication, lack of motivation to study, more distraction, professors are not equipped with the resources, challenging experience for both students and professors. From this survey, we can conclude that Lebanon wasn’t prepared well for such a situation, especially its basic infrastructure which includes bad electricity and network services.
As MSBA students, we are used to working with data daily, we are accustomed to hearing about its importance and how it holds the answers to any question we might have. We didn’t really understand how powerful data was until we were asked a question we didn’t have the answer to, and with the use of data we were able to unearth the answers to our question.
It was Monday February 22, directly after our Data visualization class, we were walking from OSB to Zaituna Bay and we were discussing different potential ideas for our upcoming visualization course when suddenly we were stopped by a SkyNews reporter. He asked us if we were students and then proceeded with asking us the one question that captured our curiosity:
Luckily, they included MSBA’s one and only Rafic Srouji in the news report the next day. His answer was:
This whole interaction got us thinking and sparked our curiosity; we wanted to find out why is the cost of consumer goods drastically increasing and what can we do about it.
As residents of Lebanon, we experienced first-hand the dramatic rise of prices every time the Lira devalues with an average inflation rate of 132.98%, so we joined the monthly inflation rate data in Lebanon with the monthly Lira rate data from 2019 till 2022. After plotting the timeseries data, we found that when the lira rate increases the inflation rate increases substantially. With further research, we found that the price of consumer goods changes substantially with the fluctuation of the lira because most consumer goods are imported, thus being purchased with the USD.
In order to get more insights about the nature of the trade deficit (exports and imports), we analyzed the Lebanese exports and imports data. This enabled us to create charts that compare the import and export values in Lebanon, and to divide them by sector.
As we can see in the dashboard’s charts, Lebanon has a large trade deficit of $12.81 Billion with most consumer goods being imported, this definitely plays a huge role in the increase of prices. If Lebanon was more self-sufficient when it comes to consumer goods and other basic products, the price of said products could potentially decrease and would be less volatile to changes in the lira rate.
Lebanon imports 20% of its total imports from the Agriculture sector, as well as 20% from the Minerals sector, which both constitutes to its highest imports. Our focus as to evaluate whether this amount could be reduced.
A big discovery was found! Lebanon has opportunities all over its area, hidden in its chaos; the country has at least one available factory that can produce goods from any tradeable sector. Lebanon has more than enough factories to reach the dream of putting a dent in the trade deficit. The country has 1,616 factories in the food industry that can dramatically decrease the high prices of food and beverages, if properly exploited.
A comparison between Turkey and Lebanon was found to be a great validation to our proposed solution. Turkey’s Lira has lost more than 70% of its value since 2021, but it was found that the inflation rate didn’t follow as aggressively as that of Lebanon. The weaker correlation between the Turkish Lira rate and the Turkish inflation rate is a direct result of the strong local production in Turkey. Turkey has a negligible trade deficit of $29 million which is negligible in comparison to its population (85 million), in opposite to Lebanon who has a trade deficit of $12.82 billion with a population of 6.83 million.
Local production is a key player in decreasing Turkey’s yearly trade deficit. Improving local production is seen to be effective in decreasing the country’s trade deficit, and decreasing the prices of goods.
From here, our findings demonstrate that there is a crucial need for local production. To do so, the government must allocate resources towards these factories and exploit them, especially in times we need them the most. This would potentially increase tourism, increase local jobs, and decrease prices all together.
Does a Country’s Borrowing Policy Affect its Population’s Income level?
The Case of Lebanon
WHAT’S THE EXCHANGE RATE TODAY?
DISCOUNTING CHECKS? AT WHAT RATE?
THIS MEANS I’M LOSING 80% OF MY MONEY!!!
I WAS DOING OK BUT NOW I CAN BARELY MAKE ENDS MEET…
This has unfortunately been the sad reality that
theLebanese people have been living for since
October of 2019.
Because a Banking | Financial | Currency | Crisis
Made a Huge Bubble Burst!
BUT HOW DID WE GET HERE?
Lebanon has had a budget deficit for over 20 years and has been borrowing from external parties
for as long as we can remember.
So, as Lebanese citizens, we are born indebted.
A country’s national debt affects its population’s income level:
Growing debt has a direct effect on economic opportunities
If high levels of debt crowd out private investments, workers would have less to jobs do and therefore earn lower wages
Countries with LOWER DEBT exhibit HIGHER INCOME levels per capita.
SO HOW HAS LEBANON’S DEBT BEEN CHANGING OVER TIME?
WHAT CAN WE DO TO MAKE THINGS BETTER?
Potential Solutions include but are not limited to:
Supporting Production and Services Sectors leading to more Job Creation and eventually More Wages
Improving Trade Agreements leads to more exports which would Reduce Budget Deficits and make the country economically healthier
Attracting Foreign Direct Investmentsby providing a healthy capital market (ex: improving Reporting Practices) which leads to More Investments & More economic opportunities, More Jobs and eventually More wages
IS THERE PROOF?
Countries with Open Trade Policies seem to have higher income levels
Countries with Updated Reporting Practices also have higher income levels