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.
Team: Ibrahim Al Jaifi, Zahraa Jassar, Rami Haidar, Ali Hachem, Rim Zeaiter, Fatima Ayoub
“ We don’t go to school; we work in the daytime to support our families and spend the rest of our day playing in the streets.”
Said Omar and Yazan, two inspiring kids in Burj Al Barajneh, a refugee camp in the suburbs of Beirut. Under 10 years old, both already carrying the responsibility of working to provide for their families instead of being enrolled in education.
According to ILO, it is estimated that 160million children are involved in child labor, 79 million of which are in Hazardous Work that is likely to harm children’s health, safety or morals. All these children, including young Omar and Yazan, are at an age when they are supposed to be provided for, educated and protected. Having to spend most of their time working in jobs that are unsafe and exhausting, their chances of leading healthy and thriving lives diminish with each dollar they earn.
Child Labor in Lebanon
The emergence of the Lebanese economic crisis in 2019 brought with it an increase in percentage of families with children engaged in child labor from 29% to 38% between 2019 and 2021 according to IRC.
GDP, as an indicator of the economic performance of a country, noticed a 65% decrease from $52B to $18B during the period of 2019 to 2021. With this drastic drop in GDP, the unemployment rate rose from 11% to 15% while the CPI more than doubled, leaving thousands of families under the poverty line with no sources of income.
With these dramatic and sudden changes in the economic situation, 3 out of 5 children in Lebanon dropped-out of school and most of the rest switched to public education. Education has become less of a priority for both the government and families.
From a social perspective, 44% of parents who have taken part in a study by the World Vision Organization believed that involving their children in paid labor enhances their life skills and assures a source of income for their households. Meanwhile, the responsible government agencies have no clear and applicable laws in place to prohibit children’s exploitation or ensure they are enrolled in education.
Child labor has destructive impacts on the health of the child, exposing millions of children to physical, mental and emotional abuse. As a result, their mental and intellectual development face significant disruptions. Considering the increasing crime rates in the country and the exposure of children to illegal work activities, the forecasted 30% increase in crime rate in 2025 would involve criminal acts by juveniles.
Mr. Aws Al Kadasi, senior research analyst at Merci Corps, commented on the topic during an interview for this project:
“According to the UNICEF, one in 5 children in the least developed countries are engaged in child labor. A problem that was aggravated by COVID-19 and global economic decline that it takes a walk in Beirut to believe these numbers. Children require different systems of protection that starts with parents and extends to every office, business, institution, organization and agency, local and international, governmental or otherwise. Everyone, who is not a child, is responsible”
Both 8 and 16 Sustainable Development Goals highlights the need for international efforts to tackle the issue of child labor:
Target 8.7: Take immediate and effective measures to eradicate forced labor, end modern slavery and human trafficking and secure the prohibition and elimination of the worst forms of child labor, including recruitment and use of child soldiers, and by 2025 end child labor in all its forms.
Target 16.2: End abuse, exploitation, trafficking and all forms of violence against and torture of children.
Inspired by these goals as well as social responsibility towards the community, our project team designed an initiative to capitalize on the work of international aid organizations and local organizations and projects working to fight child labor and illiteracy.
Future4Kids (F4K) initiative aims to establish a cooperative relationship between NGOs that provides cash assistance to families and campaigns against child labor. F4K initiative will work on partnering with cash aid organizations and NGOs working in child education. Receiving cash assistance would be conditionally linked to the enrollment of beneficiaries’ children in education with families being required to show evidence of child enrollment in education periodically.
The initiative platform will allow these two parties to join efforts to encourage families to enroll their children in education. F4K platform will also allow for receiving public donations for child education campaigns carried out by our partners.
Hussaini, 14, is one of the lucky ones. He escaped. In 2018, as terrorism by extremist groups crossed into Burkina Faso, his village was attacked while he was in school. First, he heard screaming, and then gunfire. “They shot at our teachers and killed one of them,” he says. “They burned down the classrooms.” Hussaini ran home and within a matter of minutes, his family set off. They left everything behind, including school. Since that day, Hussaini has not set foot in a classroom. “I used to love school, to read, to count and to play during recess,” he says. “It’s been a year since I last went…”
From the end of 2017 to 2019, the number of schools forced to close due to rising insecurity tripled. More than 9,200 schools closed across Burkina Faso, Cameroon, and others, leaving 1.9 million children without education. These children face a much higher risk of recruitment by armed groups, gender-based violence and targeting by traffickers. Most parents in Africa will tell you that their children’s education is the most important investment they can make.
Education is the UN’s top priority because it is a basic human right and the foundation on which to build peace and drive sustainable development. Unfortunately, lack of education for the young generation remains highly present in the world.
The problem is a cycle: lack of education results in high child labor and low literacy rate thus increasing the world’s problems such as crimes. And in its turn, terrorism decreases education opportunities. Hussaini is among millions of other children that were deprived from quality education and had high chances to be part of child labor.
Poor basic education can be identified by high child employment rate. So, what are the target continent and countries?
The map shows that the Average Child Employment Rates (ages 7-14) is highest in Africa.
Having a deeper look, Cameroon ranks first for having the highest average child employment rate of 52.7% for years 2006-2015, followed by Niger, Benin, and Burkina Faso.
Referring to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal number 4:
What if kids will get exposed to education in early stage?
Can we influence their perception?
Fulfilling the Dream
Education cannot wait, and our world had enough. It is time to increase the number of education programs targeting young generation, and specifically African countries as previously mentioned, with Cameroon being a major target.
Creating education programs would:
Have education camps with volunteering and non volunteering teachers all around the world
Use workshops and fun trainings to later voluntarily engage kids
Involve underdeveloped countries in globalization
Introduce the diversity of cultures
Work on making education a need and will for every kid and parent- representing a lasting impact environment
Many past programs were successfully implemented in Cameroon such as Open Dreams, which already funded more than 200 scholarships and mentored more than 1000 students.
Is it Time?
Targeting Cameroon, and implementing it as a first stage project, would be a start to then expand into other countries.
Finally, from another perspective, how about looking at equalizing educational opportunities as a solution to many other issues? and working on SDG 4 for quality education will strongly and positively affect other goals such as ending poverty and hunger?
Wassim, Nathalie, and Imad; three individuals who were pushed out of work by the deteriorating economic conditions in Lebanon. Tens of thousands of people like them have been suffering daily for the past 3 years living from paycheck to paycheck up until they were forced out of it (work). Lebanon has witnessed what no other country has. Unemployment rates doubled in only a decade, COVID-19 took out thousands, and inflation bankrupted hundreds of businesses.
According to Okun, a very low or negative growth in GDP leads to a rise in unemployment. By observing this visual, we can see how unemployment skyrocketed while GDP growth took a deep dive. Comparing the years 2008 and 2009, GDP growth increased 10.23 percentage points while unemployment rates decreased by 6.35 percentage points. We can conclude an inverse correlation between GDP growth and unemployment. Another observation is that between years 2020 and 2021, GDP growth increased by almost 15 percentage points. Despite this growth, unemployment remains significantly high at 14.49 percentage points. Importantly, this project is action-oriented in that it shows the nexus between unemployment and GDP growth #SDG8, which are intrinsic to an economy, from more “policy-driven” factors that can be addressed, improved or mitigated.
Here, a question rises? What is the cause for the disproportionality between GDP growth and unemployment rates? There are 3 possible causes for its inverse relation:
• The decrease of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) which reached 3.98 percentage points in 2019 due to the lack of security and political tension
• Another possible cause is the low diversification in economic sectors due to scarcity of resources. Looking at this visual, we can see the focus of employment shift mainly to the service industry which witnessed an increase by 65.10 percentage points while the agricultural and industrial sectors are left behind increasing by under 30 percentage points in 2019.
• The third and final possible cause is the over-dependence on food and fuel imports. Lebanon possesses the second highest food and energy imports in 2019.
What should be done?
Drawing upon decades of empirical literature on drivers and predictors of lack of growth, this project proves Okun’s law using visualizations for the case of Lebanon. According to International Labor Organization (ILO), not just growth, but quality of growth is the key anchor in the SDGs 2030 agenda. Sustainable economic growth will require societies to create the conditions that allow people to have quality jobs that stimulate the economy while not harming the environment.
1. Creating greater opportunities for women and men to secure decent employment and income. Closing the employment gap is at the heart of the decent work agenda, this can be through promoting voluntary private initiatives and corporate social responsibility.
2. Instating policies to enhance knowledge, skills and employability for men and women since gender remains a source of labor market inequalities and inadequately utilized human resources. Women continue to be employed in a narrower range of occupations than men and to be concentrated in lower-paid, insecure, and unprotected jobs.
3. Promoting employment through reconstruction and employment-intensive investment.
4. Increasing access to financial services to manage incomes, accumulate assets and make productive investments.
Findings and Recommendations
A shift in economic thinking and planning towards economic structural transformation is necessary for the Arab region to develop on SDG 8 (ESCWA, 2021). The post-pandemic SDG agenda must leverage the lessons learnt to reinforce national social safety nets and employment policies. This strengthens economic resilience and allows developing countries to absorb shocks. A continued lack of decent job opportunities, insufficient investments, and under-consumption slows down economic growth. The average growth rate GDP is increasing after the pandemic; however, it still did not reach pre-pandemic levels of growth and developing countries such as Lebanon are moving farther from the 7% growth rate set for 2030. Therefore, as labor productivity decreases driven by low productivity and unemployment rate rises, standards of living decreases and overall economic growth decreases.
Governments must join forces and formulate policies to promote better job opportunities through active labor market programs, corresponding to important SDGs: Economic Growth and Decent Work, as well as Partnerships to Achieve the Goals.
Sustainable economic growth will require societies to create the conditions that allow people to have quality jobs that stimulate the economy while not harming the environment. Job opportunities and decent working conditions are also required for the whole working age population. There needs to be increased access to financial services to manage incomes, accumulate assets and make productive investments. Increased commitments to trade, banking and agriculture infrastructure will also help increase productivity and reduce unemployment levels in the world’s most vulnerable regions.#SDG8 #SDG16
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.