The tanker passes in front of him like a provocation. “He’s going to refuel the station above my house, but the owners refuse to deliver gasoline because they are waiting to be able to sell it at a higher price.” ” From his residence in Hadeth, south of Beirut, Michael Vallet observes the endless queues in front of the gas station and the mounting tension. “People camp at night in their cars”, he specifies, hoping to be able to refuel in the morning. “Sometimes people exchange shots”, testifies this Frenchman installed in Lebanon for years.
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A few hours earlier, on the night of Saturday to Sunday, August 15, a cistern exploded in the north of the country, in the Akkar region. The incident reportedly took place as residents scuffled around the petrol depot to retrieve fuel. At midday, local authorities reported a provisional death toll of 28 and dozens injured. Some victims had to be rushed to Al-Salam hospital in Tripoli, the only one in the region capable of treating severe burns, 25 kilometers away.
Serious fuel shortage
The fuel shortage has worsened in recent days after the announcement of the lifting of fuel subsidies by the Bank of Lebanon on Wednesday (August 11th). On Saturday, the governor of the Central Bank, Riad Salamé, refused to reverse the decision “Unless the use of compulsory (currency) reserves is legalized”.
“Maintaining the subsidies was to continue to feed the black market circuit. To stop them without a safety net was to take the risk of a social revolt with incidents of the type that occurred in Akkar ”, summarizes Joseph Bahout, director of the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs at the American University of Beirut. “The crisis will give rise to social violence which will degenerate into armed violence and increasingly into political violence”, he predicts.
No more fuel oil for electric generators
The army was deployed at gas stations. It assured, on August 14, to have seized more than 78,000 liters of gasoline stored in two service stations and 57,000 other liters of diesel in a third in the east of the country. The Lebanese accuse some station owners of deliberately hiding their fuel stock in order to increase their profit.
The crisis affects cars, homes and public infrastructure at the same time. With the state providing only two hours of power per day, electric generators have taken over in the neighborhoods. But for lack of fuel oil to supply them, several districts of Beirut found themselves in the dark.
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“Friday evening, our generator owner cut off the electricity, arguing that he was out of fuel oil”, reported Sunday Michael Vallet. “He told us: if you bring us 30,000 tonnes of fuel oil, I’ll give you the engine. With our neighbor, we threatened him and last night we had electricity from 7:30 pm to 1:15 am. Will we have any this evening? It will be a surprise… ”“ Before this (new) crisis, there was already a mafia of electric generators which flourished on the crisis of the lack of electricity. Now, this mafia is dependent on another new mafia: that of fuels ”, analysis Alex Issa, associate doctor at the International Research Center of Sciences-Po Paris.
In Lebanon the gap is widening
Several public establishments have been forced to close their doors. The American University of Beirut Hospital (AUBMC), one of the country’s leading private hospitals, expects a “Imminent disaster” from this Monday August 16 if he does not manage to recover fuel to maintain the current. “Forty sick adults and 15 children, on respirators, will die immediately”, he alerted.
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From home, Michael Vallet can observe the lights on “24 hours a day” on the presidential palace of Baabda. ” The low, he protests, they have power and don’t even need a generator. They have gasoline and their groceries delivered to their homes. They don’t feel the shortage… ”