The fuel crisis in Lebanon worsened on Saturday as most gas stations remained closed and drivers slept outside the few that opened in hopes of purchasing some of the scarce quantities available.
The shortages persisted a day after a newly formed government announced a 38% fuel price hike amid confusion over the lifting of subsidies.
“It’s the worst situation now. They have increased the price and there is no fuel, ”said the owner of the taxi company Toufic Moussa, who drove more than 40 kilometers south of Beirut to the coastal town of Saida to buy. fuel on the black market, which cost it more than four times as much as the new one. official price.
The shortages have caused long lines at gas stations in the previous months, but seemed to worsen suddenly on Saturday, when there was even less fuel available.
“We’re used to standing in line for a long time, but in the end they fill our tank. Now they give us 20 or 25 liters, ”said Mohamed Kreidieh, another taxi driver.
Mr Kreidieh lined up at a gas station on Sunday from 3 a.m. to 3 p.m. to fill up to less than a third of his car’s tank. It will only last him a day.
“The situation is very bad. It’s worse than a week ago, ”he said.
More than half of gas stations in Beirut and surrounding cities were closed on Saturdays, taxi drivers say The National spoke to.
This may be explained in part by the Petroleum Branch’s decision to shut down fuel delivery businesses on Thursday, said George Brax, spokesperson for the Station Owners Union, who did not give further details. on this decision. Lebanese daily Orient Day indicated that management wanted to take an inventory of the country’s fuel stocks.
The Energy Ministry’s decision to raise prices came at noon on Friday, meaning delivery companies, which are closed on weekends, only had time to operate in the afternoon. Mr. Brax said. The National.
Senior Lebanese officials, including the governor and chairman of the central bank, reached an agreement on August 21 to change the dollar exchange rate for fuel imports from 3,900 to 8,000 Lebanese pounds against the dollar, increasing prices at the time by 66% overnight.
The move, which cost the government $ 225 million, is expected to remain in effect until the end of September as the cash-strapped central bank tries to gradually lift subsidies on food, medicine and fuel, which were put in place at the start of the worst economic crisis on record in 2019.
The value of Lebanon’s local currency has fallen over the past two years.
Despite the lack of a public announcement from the authorities, Friday’s decision signals a central bank decision to move the exchange rate of fuel imports from 8,000 to 12,000 Lebanese pounds to the dollar, Brax said.
“I think the subsidies will be completely phased out by the end of the month,” he said. A central bank spokesperson was unavailable for comment.
The Lebanese National News Agency reported that an oil tanker loaded with 16,000 tonnes of fuel from Iraq began unloading at the Zahrani public power plant on Sunday after a first batch was unloaded on Sunday in another. power station in northern Lebanon.
The Lebanese Energy Ministry announced at the end of August the purchase of 84,000 tonnes of Iraqi fuel as part of a complicated swap deal operated by the Emirates National Oil Company (ENOC).
At the same time, and in a move organized only by Hezbollah, a local political party that also manages a powerful militia, Iranian fuel began arriving by truck from Syria on Friday, despite US sanctions on fuel transfers.
But importers have already said The National that the quantities represent only a fraction of the country’s needs.
Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati told CNN Friday that if the decision of Hezbollah “makes him sad” because it violates the sovereignty of Lebanon, he is not affected by American sanctions “because the operation was carried out without the involvement of the Lebanese government”.
Update: September 18, 2021, 3:45 p.m.