Small, densely populated and lying at the heart of a region beset by conflict and political instability, Lebanon is experiencing a profound financial crisis.
In October 2019, the dire economic situation sparked mass protests across the country. The ensuing civil unrest and failure to implement urgent economic reforms had a detrimental impact on the financial and banking sectors and the overall standard of living, 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-related lockdown measures and political instability have pushed vulnerable Lebanese and refugee families further into poverty. Currently, nearly one million people in Lebanon are living below the poverty line.
Since October 2019, the national currency has lost 80 percent of its value, and by June 2020, the World Food Programme (WFP) recorded an increase of 109 percent in prices of food – 85 percent of which is imported. A recent WFP survey on the impact of the economic crisis and of the COVID-19 outbreak and subsequent lockdown measures on livelihoods and food security revealed that food has become a major source of concern with 50 percent of Lebanese respondents saying they worried about having enough food to eat.
The devastating blasts that hit Beirut port – through which 70 percent of Lebanon’s overall trade transits – on 4 August 2020 have dealt the country a further blow, destroying grain silos as well as homes and economic activities.
Having shown exceptional solidarity towards people fleeing war and insecurity in neighbouring countries, Lebanon has the world’s highest per capita refugee presence, estimated at one quarter 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 1.2 million, only 800,000 of whom are receiving assistance.
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 refugee response.
What the World Food Programme is doing in Lebanon
In the aftermath of the Beirut port blasts, WFP allocated food parcels for 5,000 highly vulnerable families and is preparing to scale up as needed. WFP has also provided food parcels to two local communal kitchens run by local NGO Caritas that are providing meals to victims of the blast as well as volunteers working to clean up the debris. In response to heightened needs, WFP plans to expand its existing cash assistance programme across the country, including Beirut residents directly affected by the blasts.
WFP 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.
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. During COVID-related lockdowns, the families of more than 13,000 students who were enrolled in WFP’s school feeding programme are receiving food packages.
Food assistance for assets
Through 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.
WFP 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 capacity
WFP 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.