BEIRUT, Lebanon — In normal times, Ziad Hassan, a grocery store manager in Beirut, would get a daily email from his chain’s management telling him which prices needed to be adjusted and by how much.
But as Lebanon’s currency has collapsed, sending the economy into a tailspin, the emails have come as often as three times a day, ordering price increases across the store.
“We have to change everything,” an exasperated Mr. Hassan said, adding that his employees often weren’t even able to finish marking one price increase before the next one arrived. “It’s crazy.”
The country’s economic distress grew more acute last week as the Lebanese pound sank to 15,000 to the dollar on the black market — its lowest level ever — sucking value from people’s salaries as prices for once affordable goods soared out of reach. It has since rebounded to about 12,000.
A catastrophic explosion in Beirut’s port in August, which killed 190 people and left a large swath of the capital in ruins, only deepened the misery.
In a country where most products are imported, the currency collapse has left no sector unaffected.
the United Nations said that more than 55 percent of Lebanon’s population had become poor, nearly double the number from the year before. Extreme poverty had increased threefold to 23 percent. And the situation has worsened since.
said in November that food prices in Lebanon had increased 423 percent since October 2019, the largest jump since monitoring began in 2007. Prices have continued to rise since, putting acute pressure on the poor.
designated in October to form a new government. But he has made little progress, despite 17 meetings to discuss political horse trading with President Michel Aoun. LastThursday, they agreed to meet again on Monday.
Jihad Sabat, 48, has watched the decline from the window of the Beirut butcher shop he has run since 1997. Over the last year, he said, the price of meat has kept rising while the number of customers has dwindled.
A pound of beef now costs more than three times what it would have before the crisis, he said — more than three times what it cost before the crisis. He has also seen a rise in people wanting to buy on credit and interested in taking bones to boil for soup.
“Meat has become a luxury,” he said.
He accused the country’s politicians of stealing the state’s money through corrupt schemes and criticized them for failing to stabilize the economy.
A friend hanging out in the shop interjected, “The problem is the people.” Mr. Sabat nodded.
“That’s an essential point,” he said. “If there were elections tomorrow, the same people would be back.”
In the grocery store, Mr. Hassan, the manager, said his branch sold less meat every month and more lentils, even though they, too, are imported and cost five times more than before the crisis.
Fights have broken out in the aisles over staples like rice, sugar and cooking oil subsidized by the government, he said. And it is common for customers to get sticker shock in the checkout lane when they realize they can afford only a few essentials.
“I don’t know how people keep going,” he said. “But it will eventually cause an explosion.”
PARIS — Amandine Chéreau hurried from her cramped student apartment in suburban Paris to catch a train for an hourlong trip into the city. Her stomach rumbled with hunger, she said, as she headed for a student-run food bank near the Bastille, where she joined a snaking line with 500 young people waiting for handouts.
Ms. Chéreau, 19, a university student, ran out of savings in September after the pandemic ended the babysitting and restaurant jobs she had relied on. By October, she had resorted to eating one meal a day, and said she had lost 20 pounds.
“I have no money for food,” said Ms. Chéreau, whose father helps pay her tuition and rent, but couldn’t send more after he was laid off from his job of 20 years in August. “It’s frightening,” she added, as students around her reached for vegetables, pasta and milk. “And it’s all happening so fast.”
As the pandemic begins its second year, humanitarian organizations in Europe are warning of an alarming rise in food insecurity among young people, following a steady stream of campus closings, job cuts and layoffs in their families. A growing share are facing hunger and mounting financial and psychological strain, deepening disparities for the most vulnerable populations.
intensifying crisis over how to meet their basic dietary needs. As the global economy struggles to rebound from the worst recession since World War II, hunger is on the rise.
In the United States, nearly one in eight households doesn’t have enough to eat. People in already food-starved countries face a greater crisis, with food insecurity in the developing world expected to nearly double to 265 million people, according to the United Nations World Food Program.
In France, Europe’s second-largest economy, half of young adults now have limited or uncertain access to food. Nearly a quarter are routinely skipping at least one meal a day, according to le Cercle des Économistes, a French economic think tank that advises the government.
acknowledged a growing crisis after undergraduate and graduate students demonstrated in cities across France, where higher education is seen as a right and the state finances most costs. He announced a rapid relief plan, including 1-euro meals daily at university cafeterias, psychological support and a review of financial aid for those facing a “lasting and notable decline in family income.”
Linkee, a nationwide food bank that set up new services dedicated to students who cannot get enough food. “Students have become the new face of this precariousness,” he said.
Food insecurity among students was not uncommon before the pandemic. But the problem has ballooned since European countries imposed national lockdowns last spring to contain the coronavirus.
Aid organizations that mainly fed refugees, the homeless and people below the poverty line have refocused operations to also meet a surge in demand among youth. At the Restos du Coeur, one of France’s largest food banks, with 1,900 outlets, the number of young adults under 25 lining up for meals has risen to become nearly 40 percent of the total.
Over eight million people in France visited a food bank last year, compared with 5.5 million in 2019. Food aid demand across Europe has surged by 30 percent, according to the European Food Banks Federation.
While the government subsidizes campus meals, it doesn’t provide food pantries. As the cost of staying fed grows insurmountable for students with little or no income, university administrators have turned to aid groups for help fighting hunger.
The pandemic has wiped out jobs in restaurants, tourism and other hard-hit sectors that were once easily accessible to young people. Two-thirds have lost work that helped them make ends meet, according to the National Observatory of Student Life.
limit mass layoffs and prevent bankruptcies. But that hasn’t shielded parents from the recession’s widening toll.
Co’p1/Solidarités Étudiantes, the food bank Ms. Chéreau visited, opened near the Bastille in October when six students from Paris Sorbonne University banded together after seeing more of their peers go hungry.
Aided by the Paris mayor’s office and the Red Cross, they negotiated donations from supermarkets and food companies like Danone. Now, 250 student volunteers organize pasta, cereal, baguettes, milk, soda, vegetables and sanitary items to give to 1,000 students a week — though the need is five times greater, said Ulysse Guttmann-Faure, a law student and a founder of the group. Students go online to reserve a place in the line.
“At first, it took three days for these slots to fill up,” he said. “Now, they’re booked in three hours.”
Food banks like these, run by student volunteers for other students, have become a rare bright spot for thousands who have been struggling silently to confront the psychological toll of living with the pandemic.
Thomas Naves, 23, a philosophy major on a scholarship at Nanterre University, said he felt abandoned and isolated taking online classes for months at a time in a tiny studio.
When his student jobs were cut, he began seeking out food banks that set up at his campus twice a week. There, he found not only desperately needed meals, but a way to escape loneliness and cope with his growing distress. His parents were both ill, and were themselves barely making ends meet.
Mr. Naves settled behind a small table in his student lodging one recent afternoon to eat a microwaved curry he had gotten from the campus food pantry. In his closet was a small stock of donated pasta and canned goods — enough to eat several more meals.
“Going to the food bank is the only option to feed myself,” he said.
“But meeting other students in my situation made me realize that we are all sharing this suffering together.”
Gaëlle Fournier contributed reporting.