Small and densely populated, Lebanon lies at the heart of a region beset by conflict and political instability. The country has shown exceptional solidarity towards people fleeing war and insecurity in neighbouring countries and has the world’s highest per capita refugee presence, estimated at one quarter of the overall population.
Lebanon has made significant progress in the last decade and is currently ranked as an upper-middle-income country. However, poverty and income inequality remain high – with wide disparities among regions – and the participation of women in political life and in the job market is low.
The spill over 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. The agricultural sector is weak and up to 80 percent of the country’s food needs are covered by imports.
Marked by the impact of the Syrian crisis, the dire economic situation turned into a deep crisis and led to mass protests across the country in October 2019. The civil unrest and failure to implement urgent economic reforms could had detrimental impact on the financial and banking sectors and the overall standard of living in Lebanon, leading to a scarcity of basic commodities and fuel. With the outbreak of COVID-19, Lebanon was quick to take crucial precautions that led to successful containment of the spread of the virus. However, the unsteady economic situation, COVID-19 lockdown measures and political instability has taken a huge toll on vulnerable households and pushed Lebanese and refugee families further into poverty, making thousands of Lebanese live without an income. Between October 2019 and April 2020, the World Food Programme (WFP) in Lebanon recorded an increase of 56 percent in prices of food.
According to the Vulnerability Assessment of Syrian Refugees carried out in 2019, 63 percent of Syrian refugees are severely or moderately food insecure, an increase from 57 percent in 2018.
The World Food Programme (WFP) has been in Lebanon since 2012. Leveraging its global experience, innovative tools and extensive networks, WFP works to help vulnerable Lebanese and refugees ensure they have sufficient, nutritious food throughout the year. Cash assistance to buy food and empower vulnerable families to meet their essential needs is complemented by longer term activities to enhance the skills and employability of both Lebanese and Syrians, and improve their livelihoods – including by linking smallholder farmers to markets. WFP also distributes daily nutritious snacks to vulnerable Lebanese and refugee school children in public schools across Lebanon. Building on its expertise and tools for large-scale crisis response, WFP is also assisting the Lebanese government develop its social assistance system, and design programmes to promote the equal participation of women in society and the economy.
These activities – crucial to support Lebanon in reaching Sustainable Development Goal 2 on Zero Hunger and to foster social cohesion and stability in the face of significant straining factors – cannot be pursued in isolation. WFP works in partnership with government authorities, other UN agencies, NGOs and the private sector – including a network of 500 local shops that are at the forefront of WFP’s response to the refugee response.
What the World Food Programme is doing in Lebanon
Cash assistanceWFP runs an e-card system as its primary form of food assistance for vulnerable Syrian and Lebanese families who cannot meet their basic food needs. E-cards are loaded each month with US$ 27 per person and can be used to buy food in any of the 500 contracted shops across Lebanon. The system allows refugees to choose the makeup of their meals, gives them access to fresh produce and significantly boosts the local economy.
School mealsSchool meals – WFP joined forces with the Ministry of Education and Higher Education to address the lack of education opportunities for Lebanese and Syrian primary school pupils and to prevent the loss of a generation. By distributing locally-sourced ready-to-eat snacks, WFP addresses short-term hunger and provides an incentive for children to enrol and remain in school.
Food assistance for assetsThrough food for assets programmes, both vulnerable Lebanese and Syrian communities are engaged in the building or rehabilitation of infrastructures that can help them reduce the impact of climate change and strengthen livelihoods, making participating individuals, their families and communities more resilient to shocks.
Improving livelihoodsWFP provides conditional food assistance to vulnerable Lebanese and Syrians to build skills that they can use to improve their income opportunities (both in Lebanon and in Syria once the war ends) and livelihoods. WFP also helps smallholder farmers access markets for their produce and promotes agro-food processing cooperatives run by women.
National response capacityWFP leverages its cash transfers platform, response expertise and links with key ministries, UN agencies and other organisations to assist Lebanese institutions in building social protection programmes.