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Unprecedented number of people in Lebanon forced to rely on humanitarian assistance

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Lebanese families struggle to access basic needs – including food – as the economic meltdown, paired with hyperinflation and shortages of fuel, electricity and medicines, pushes a growing number of people to the brink and beyond.

From above, Tripoli’s Hay Al Tanak – “the tin neighborhood” – looks exactly like a maze. Built on forgotten land, the makeshift shelters come in all shapes and sizes, reflecting the fragile living conditions of residents.

Mona lives on the edge of the maze. Every sunrise carries a new challenge for her and the people she must feed. She is fanning herself with her hand – not only to cool herself off from the blistering summer heat, but to also to brush away the insects and flies that claimed her home as theirs.

Mona “never expected she would need assistance” to stay afloat. In fact, neither did most of the one in six people in Lebanon who now rely on support from the World Food Programme (WFP) to make ends meet.

“Before COVID-19 and all that is happening, everything in Lebanon was somehow affordable,” Mona tells us as she stares at a blank wall. She recalls that in early 2019, a supermarket visit did not mean spending the minimum wage, equivalent to US$34, on a couple of staple items.

Recent World Food Programme (WFP) assessments have found that the price of the organization’s food basket – which includes basic food items such as oil and lentils – has increased five-fold since October 2019 due to the start of civil unrest and economic meltdown, followed by the pandemic and the Beirut blasts. In parallel, the Lebanese pound has lost more than 90 percent of its market value, resulting in a drastic drop in purchasing power.

Limited food access and availability is now a widespread issue in Lebanon: WFP surveys have found that 22 percent of Lebanese, 50 percent of Syrian refugees, and 33 percent of refugees of other nationalities are food insecure. High prices mean food is out of reach for most, and retailers face serious challenges to restock and keep their businesses running. The ongoing reduction and lifting of government food, fuel and medicine subsidies is likely to make the situation much worse. As affordable food and fuel become scarce, competition for basic resources is on the rise, inflaming social tensions.

On top of everything, the blast that destroyed part of Beirut’s port on 4 August 2020 was a terrible blow for this import-dependent country. The port handled 80 percent of trade operations, including staple food and essential items.

As prices increase by the day – and sometimes by the hour – people are wasting a good part of their day going from place to place in the hope of finding essential items at prices they can afford. Sunflower oil has registered a staggering 1,169 percent increase between October 2019 and June 2021.

As she sneaks a quick glance at one of her children, rocking on his chair next to her, Mona says: “Children benefit the most when fed with nutritious food.” “Food keeps children healthy, protects them from diseases and helps them grow right in front of our eyes,” she adds with a smile.

WFP is supporting over 1.4 million Lebanese and non-Lebanese monthly and aims to reach 750,000 Lebanese across the country through various interventions this year.

Since 2014, WFP has been the backbone of sustaining food assistance for vulnerable Lebanese, reaching thousands of families every month through e-cards which can be used to buy food. With the EU’s support, families can now access monthly allowances to purchase basic, essential items for their survival.

As more people live meal to meal and worry about necessities such as food, rent and medicine, WFP is tripling its assistance to Lebanese families through the National Poverty Targeting Programme (NPTP), the only social support scheme established in Lebanon.

This has only been possible through the generous donor support from the European Union, Germany, Canada, Norway, Italy, and France.

In addition to direct food assistance to the poorest Lebanese families, and cash for basic needs, WFP is also strengthening the capacity and sustainability of the Government of Lebanon’s NPTP. As well as training the Ministry of Social Affairs’ social workers and field work coordinators, WFP is providing a robust payment delivery platform, monitoring results, building digital systems, and providing technical support.

“The EU and WFP stand ready to help the people of Lebanon in navigating these challenging times and are committed to strengthening Lebanese social protection systems,” said Rein Nieland, Head of Cooperation at the EU Delegation to Lebanon, highlighting the EU’s solidarity towards the Lebanese faced with unprecedented, multiple crises.

All this has made a real difference in people’s lives.

“When we were informed that our family is eligible for aid, we immediately felt happy,” Mona recalls. “No one could believe how glad I was. I’ve been hoping to get the WFP food e-card for a very long time.”