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Syrian refugees feel the heat of Lebanon’s economic woes

With support from the EU Regional Trust Fund for the Response to the Syrian Crisis, known as ‘Madad’, WFP is providing cash assistance for Syrian refugees as well as vulnerable Lebanese, both to support food security and social cohesion

, Miriam Azar
Rokati sips her tea, which is her lunch, as she shares her thoughts on the importance of preserving community relations through humanitarian assistance to the local population in need.
Rokati uses tea to keep hunger pangs at bay. Photo: WFP/Giulio Origlia

“My 6-year-old, Amin, dreams of scavenging so that he can earn some money and buy chicken to eat,” says Roukati. “With a gallon of oil costing 350,000 Lebanese Lira we cannot afford chicken, meat, or cheese, only the basics like cooking oil, bread, milk.” 

That’s equal to US$230 which accounts for around 13 per cent of the family’s entire income and assistance.  

With the collapse of the local currency, skyrocketing inflation, and the economic and financial recession, more families in Lebanon are forced to skip meals. Almost nine out of ten Syrian refugees are unable to afford the bare minimum to survive. 

Roukati’s husband is unable to work due to health problems and cannot afford the medication he needs. He struggles to climb the stairs to their fourth-floor apartment. The couple’s eldest sons can no longer support them. The family escaped conflict in Syria, where Roukati’s oldest son was killed. Her second eldest son was attacked while working, suffering a permanent brain injury.

6-year-old Amin and his sister 5-year-old sister Tasmine play together at home.
6-year-old Amin and his sister 5-year-old sister Tasmine play together at home. Photo: WFP/Giulio Origlia

The 40-year-old and her husband skip meals every day so that her children can eat.   

About a third of Syrian refugee adults reported restricting their meals to have enough food for their smaller or young children this year. Nutritional intake among vulnerable populations is a major concern; many are unable to afford most protein-based foods.  

Roukati’s family biggest expense are the rent and electricity generator costs in a country where power is available only a few hours a day. Their main income is the WFP e-card funded by the European Union that allows them to withdraw cash every month.

The amount is calculated per family member for up to six people per household. A family of this size receives the equivalent of 2.6 million Lebanese pounds in total or around US$93 depending on the day’s market rate as the currency continues to depreciate. Previously, the WFP e-card enabled families to purchase food in locally contracted shops. 

As the economic situation in Lebanon continues to spiral, more families are resorting to damaging coping strategies such as skipping meals and sending their children to work. 

In September more than 230,000 Syrian refugees, in addition to more than 217,000 vulnerable Lebanese nationals, became eligible to withdraw cash from ATMs – which they use to purchase food and other essential items.  

“It is better to have unrestricted cash than a food card, because now we can compare prices in different shops and find the cheapest items,” says Roukati, in a reference to the daily fluctuations in prices. “This helps us a lot.”  

Rokati prepares a rolled sandwich with oil and spices for her son’s lunch, and just a tea for herself.
A rolled sandwich with oil and spices for Rokati's son’s lunch. Photo: WFP/Giulio Origlia 

After rent and generator costs, the family is left with LBP 200,000 (around US$130) from the assistance, the equivalent of around US$7. Two of Roukati’s teenage sons work, carrying and delivering gallons of water to residential apartments. Together they make an additional LBP 200,000 a month. The family owes a local shop owner an amounts equal to over four months of their total income plus assistance. This is not uncommon: according to the preliminary findings of the annual Vulnerability Assessment of Syrian refugees in Lebanon, 93 percent borrow money to buy food. Half of that is money owed to supermarket owners as they buy on credit.  

When asked about other potential sources of income, the family’s tragic circumstances unravel. 

Roukati’s daily concerns for survival are not limited to food; she’s constantly worried about the safety of her children.  

Assistance to the most vulnerable Lebanese is important not only from a humanitarian perspective, but also for reducing growing intercommunal tensions as resources and employment opportunities become scarce. .  

“I want the Lebanese to get assistance as well, so that we can get along,” says Roukati.  

Thanks to the generous support of the European Union Madad Trust Fund, the most vulnerable Syrian and Lebanese households in Lebanon are being assisted through WFP e-cards providing a fixed amount of cash every month for unrestricted use to strengthen resilience. 

Learn more about WFP's work in Lebanon

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