With economic implosion accelerating at an alarming pace, the Facebook group ‘Lebanon Barters’ attempts to stem the tide by facilitating trade of essential goods between distressed citizens.
Known for being a sanctuary of stability during the past decade of turmoil in the Middle East, Lebanon is rapidly descending headfirst into its worst economic crisis since the 1975-1990 civil war.
Decades of economic mismanagement and corruption, coupled with the fallout from the Covid-19 pandemic, has pushed the country to the brink. Much of the chaos stems from the banking system, which has been compared to a Ponzi scheme.
The spectre of a Venezuela-style collapse appears imminent: acute shortages of essential products and services are the norm alongside hyperinflation and increasing lawlessness.
The Lebanese pound, or lira, has lost over 60 percent of its value in just the past month alone, and 80 percent of its value on the black market since last October. The lira’s freefall has been so precipitous that a satirical Twitter account exists to react to its own decline in real time.
There is also no sign the rest of the world will come to the rescue. Six weeks of talks between the government and the International Monetary Fund to secure a $10 billion loan have stalled.
As desperation mounts, Lebanese citizens have sought relief online to meet their daily needs.
While many have turned to charity, bartering is increasingly becoming preferable to handouts.
A Facebook group Lebanon Barters is one such example, offering a space where people can trade for essential items with each other.
“We don’t beg over their needs, using poor people to get donations,” the group’s founder Hassan Hasna told TRT World. “We try to do it proudly.”
In less than two months, membership of the group has grown to almost 19,000, with people offering everything from hookah tobacco to wedding dresses in exchange for milk or diapers.
In the comments section underneath each post, people discuss items they can trade in return for what they need, and where to meet to complete the swap.
Hasna, who is Lebanese-Canadian, returned to Lebanon a year and a half ago after being abroad for three decades.
Unfortunately, his timing could not have been worse.
Lebanon began to spiral from September as discontent grew into a popular revolution. It was then when Hasna teamed up with a friend to offer assistance by gathering donations for families in need and taking care of children.
However, as restrictions on banks tightened, supplies became shorter. Urgent needs started to take precedence, like food and medication.
By May, the transfers from abroad that many had come to rely on had dried up, and were only being issued in devalued Lebanese liras and not dollars.
The situation then reached a tipping point.
“So what do I do with these people that I helped? What do I do with people asking for donations, for food, for baby milk?” Hasna lamented.
“Supplies had become very short. Even people that had money, it was seized by the bank. They would barely get enough to survive.”
Hasna decided on a solution: bartering.
Interestingly, he credits his experience overseas for convincing him, recalling a time when he worked with the United Nations in Afghanistan between 2007 and 2012.
“In 2009, I was in Kandahar, and I saw people exchanging food – bread for milk, milk for vegetables. They weren’t using money at all,” he said.
“So I created the group and told people whatever you have, has value. Even if you have nothing to barter with, your service can be bartered. If you’re a barber, a carpenter, a welder – instead of paying you, people can give you the supplies that you need.”
The group has been operating for over six weeks, with 80,000 visitors having interacted via posts. There are at least forty to fifty submitted per day, and many of the items posted are sold within a short time frame.
In the event something does not gain traction, Hasna intervenes.
“In cases when people don’t interact with the item offered to barter, we step in if it involves baby products, medical needs, or milk, and do the barter ourselves even if we don’t need the item.”
Some members participate in the group less out of desperation, but in order to trade items for which they may no longer have use. Hasna says that they simply offer them up for barter and exchange them for other miscellaneous items they might require.
Another subset are those who give away but do not wish for anything in return. Instead, they will have those items collected and distributed to families in need – a database is maintained and a team verifies the cases.
Hasna believes the civic initiative has been a way to offer his fellow citizens a lifeline during extremely trying times.
“My main goal is humanity, but also to help keep the Lebanese people’s heads up.”
All the while, their dignity is preserved, too.