Small, densely populated and lying at the heart of a region beset by conflict and political instability, Lebanon is experiencing a profound economic crisis in addition to the protracted Syrian refugee crisis.
Decades of financial mismanagement precipitated in an economic recession. The ongoing failure to implement urgent political and macroeconomic reforms has led to an economic crisis that the World Bank has called one of the top 10 most severe crises globally since the 19th century. The social impact of the crisis has been dire for all population groups in Lebanon: prices continue to rise, with basic commodities including medicine and fuel increasingly scarce, while employment opportunities and salaries have sharply declined.
As the Lebanese and refugee populations were already suffering from the economic recession compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic, a devastating blast hit the capital’s port on 4 August 2020, destroying homes, businesses, as well as the major grain silos, dealing the country’s already hard-hit economy a major blow. With 70 percent of Lebanon’s overall trade transiting through the Beirut port prior to the blast, procurement of basic commodities, including food, became a major concern. Swift action by national and international actors was necessary to ensure that commodities are delivered to the local market, and that the population is able to secure its food and basic needs.
Almost a year after the devastating port explosion, the impact of the economic crisis today still echoes more than ever before. With the lack of urgent economic reforms and a persistent deadlock in the formation of a government that would revive the country’s collapsed economy, more Lebanese and refugee families are being pushed further into poverty, with nearly three million in Lebanon needing humanitarian assistance.
Between 2019 and June 2021, the national currency has lost more than 90 percent of its value, and by May 2021, the World Food Programme (WFP) recorded an increase of 340 percent in the price of the basic food basket. With the constant increase in food prices, food security has become a major concern, as most Lebanese families and almost the entire refugee population are worried about having enough food to eat.
Having shown exceptional solidarity towards people fleeing war and insecurity in neighboring countries, Lebanon has the world’s highest per capita refugee presence, estimated at 40 percent of the overall population. The spillover from the ongoing war in Syria has exacerbated economic and social challenges, placing a strain on existing resources and already overstretched public services and infrastructure in host communities. According to WFP estimates, the number of Syrian refugees who are severely or moderately food insecure stands at 1.3 million, of whom 1 million are receiving assistance.
With the initial aim to respond to the emergency of the Syrian crisis in Lebanon, WFP has been providing life-saving assistance to refugees in the country since 2012. However, WFP’s role to assist the people in need has expanded to include the Lebanese population, ensuring that both vulnerable Lebanese and refugees have sufficient, nutritious food throughout the year.
What the World Food Programme is doing in Lebanon
Economic crisis response for vulnerable Lebanese
With more than half the Lebanese population currently living below the poverty line, food security has become a major concern for many. As a response, WFP will ensure that 100,000 Lebanese families have their food needs met by the end of 2021 through in-kind food distributions. The provision of food parcels helps counter the impact of inflation and the decreased purchasing power following the devaluation of the national currency.
Food and basic assistance for refugees
WFP provides Syrian refugees and refugees of other nationalities with cash-based assistance through electronic cards, allowing them to meet their basic needs by either buying food items in any of 400+ contracted shops across Lebanon or withdrawing cash from ATMs to spend on what they need. The system allows beneficiaries to choose the makeup of their meals, gives them access to fresh produce and significantly boosts the local economy.
Beirut port explosion response
As an immediate response in the aftermath of the Beirut blast, WFP allocated food parcels to families and communal kitchens in the blast-stricken area and brought into Lebanon 12,500 metric tons of wheat flour to support food security after the explosion. Following the immediate response, WFP provided multipurpose cash assistance to 89,000 vulnerable people affected by the explosion for a period of six months. WFP also provided support to over 200 businesses reeling from the devastating impact of the Beirut blast.
WFP distributes daily nutritious snacks to vulnerable Lebanese and refugee school children in public schools across Lebanon. With the closure of schools due to COVID-19, WFP adapted its programme and has distributed food parcels to families of vulnerable school children across the country. The parcels provide the families with 40 percent of their monthly nutritional needs, and act as an incentive for parents to keep their children enrolled in public schools across the country.
WFP delivers livelihood programming to vulnerable Lebanese, Syrian refugees, and refugees of other nationalities. Participants receive trainings to build their individual capacities, along with short-term cash assistance to support their essential needs. As the economic crisis heavily affected people’s ability to find work opportunities and have a reliable source of income, WFP’s livelihoods interventions empower participants and gives them the opportunity to provide for themselves in a challenging environment.
WFP supports the food component of the National Poverty Targeting Programme (NPTP), which is Lebanon’s first targeted social safety net programme assisting Lebanese living in poverty. NPTP food assistance is delivered via e-cards which can be used in more than 400 WFP-contracted shops to buy food, enabling the most vulnerable Lebanese families to meet their basic food needs all year long. Building on its expertise and tools, WFP is also assisting the Lebanese government through direct support in the effective implementation of the NPTP.
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