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explosion in beirutLebanon has long served as a bustling commercial hub for the Middle East. However, in recent years, its burgeoning economic crisis has shifted more and more of its population below the poverty line. This crisis results from a multitude of factors, including Lebanon’s pile-up of debt and the Syrian crisis. This already souring situation took a turn for the worst on Aug. 4, 2020 when an explosion in Beirut, Lebanon’s capital, left 177 dead, 6,000 wounded and around 300,000 people homeless. Devastating by every stretch of the word, the explosion in Beirut impacted all types of people. Even so, its impact has been felt in different ways across the population. Efforts to recover and rebuild have often overlooked the poorest communities, exacerbating poverty in Lebanon.

Poverty in Lebanon

Much of Lebanon’s poor come from the refugee population. In all, 25% of Lebanon’s population is comprised of refugees, in large part due to the Syrian crisis. This crisis, socio-economic unrest and the COVID-19 pandemic have only kept refugees and other vulnerable families below the poverty line. Just under half of Lebanon’s population is accordingly food insecure. The explosion in Beirut, through which 70% of Lebanon’s commerce takes place, has further crippled an already floundering economy. It has left Lebanon ill-prepared to care for its native people on top of the refugee population it has taken in.

The Poor Take the Backseat in Times of Crisis

Already a vulnerable population in more certain times, the poor fall further when a crisis hits. Impoverished people may struggle to access healthcare and safe shelter during crises. Homeless and low-income populations may struggle to meet their daily needs more during a crisis, when those needs become more precarious and expensive. Furthermore, people with more resources are often better equipped to access available aid and resources. A good example of this phenomenon is the ongoing COVID-19 crisis. Many people are concerned about low-income populations obtaining shelter and having access to clean water and medical care.

Similar worries crop up with the crisis in Beirut. Because a large number of people lost their homes, the explosion in Beirut thrust many into homelessness. This made it harder for many people to access shelter and medical aid. Though capacity issues already plague the homeless seeking shelter in Lebanon, the explosion in Beirut created a new wave of displaced people looking for a place to stay. With limited resources, homeless and low-income populations are at an automatic disadvantage for securing their needs.

Long-Term Impacts of the Explosion in Beirut

The explosion in Beirut has launched Lebanon into a series of severe shortages when resources were already tight. After predictions of a low harvest in the months to come with rising crop prices, experts were already concerned about food security for Lebanon’s vulnerable. However, the explosion in Beirut destroyed 15,000 metric tons of wheat stored in nearby silos. In response, various world leaders convened a summit to pledge funds toward the country. They aim to respond both to the disaster as well as to COVID-19’s strain on the nation’s economy and healthcare system.

Before the explosion, Beirut’s healthcare system was already under pressure from the country’s economic downturn. By destroying five major hospitals and 12 primary healthcare centers, the explosion in Beirut further strained this system. Lebanon’s major drug supply was also destroyed, leaving the country with a crippling shortage of essential medications while demand skyrocketed.

In addition, the blast damaged more than 8,000 buildings, leaving many displaced and homeless. Architects and engineers have started a grassroots effort to collect donations and rebuild people’s homes. However, the concern of money weighs heavily on the project, threatening to kneecap it before it has fulfilled its purpose. In all, the population fears that the world will forget Beirut and leave it to deal with the long-term effects of the explosion on its own.

Rebuilding Beirut will be a lengthy process. In the meantime, members of the displaced community are struggling to get their daily needs met. The people of Lebanon lack no determination to do so: all they need are the resources to rebuild and recover.

Catherine Lin 
Photo: Flickr

Homelessness in LebanonLebanon has struggled economically for years, with troubles only worsening with the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic. Over the past 40 years, the country has experienced spillover from the Syrian civil war, its own civil war, gaps in political leadership and a garbage crisis. Now, the pandemic is threatening to plunge more Lebanese people into poverty and possibly without adequate shelter.

Background

Homelessness in Lebanon has been an issue for decades. Lebanon’s civil war, lasting from 1975 to the early 1990s, displaced an estimated 1 million people and resulted in about $25 million in damaged property. Then, a war from July to August of 2006 displaced another million people. Habitat for Humanity reports that the second war destroyed more than 100,000 homes.

The fallout of these wars left Lebanon in significant debt. Reconstruction has been costly and on top of that, Lebanon’s political unrest prevented the completion of the country’s recovery.

Refugee Crisis and COVID-19

Since the Syrian civil war has made Lebanon host to 1.5 million refugees as of 2019. This has put an enormous strain on the country and the housing industry. On top of an existing poverty problem, the influx of refugees has made homelessness in Lebanon more of a threat, as they have contributed to pre-existing issues such as poor access to water sanitation and the garbage crisis.

Additionally, the pandemic may be a key factor in increasing the number of homeless Lebanese. Nearly half of Lebanon’s population currently lives below the poverty line according to the World Bank, as opposed to 33% just last September. It’s estimated that, with the addition of the coronavirus, this number could climb to over 75%. Housing is a basic need. However, when families are experiencing extreme poverty, they may have to make decisions like choosing food or medicine over shelter, leaving them in an extremely vulnerable position.

Shelter Partners Addressing Homelessness in Lebanon

Habitat for Humanity has worked to help improve housing poverty in Lebanon by providing microloans to those whose homes are in dire need of renovation such as lack of toilets and damaged roofs. They are also providing financial literacy training and partner with NGOs to provide home repairs to vulnerable families.

Another organization aiming to help homelessness in Lebanon is the Shelter Working Group, a coordination group that helps increase, improve and provide shelter to refugees and vulnerable persons. Oxfam reports that in February 2014, the Shelter Working Group provided 344,000 people in Lebanon with shelter assistance, including 264,000 Syrian refugees, 57,000 PRS (Palestine Refugees from Syria) and 23,000 vulnerable host families. Between January and June of 2019, shelter partners in Lebanon had reached 69,216 people.

While these numbers are encouraging and provide hope for the future, it is important to remember that the coronavirus is leading to a rise in poverty that could directly relate to a rise in homelessness. It is possible Lebanon will need these resources more than ever.

– Sophie Grieser
Photo: Flickr

Top 10 Facts about Poverty in Lebanon
The small, Middle Eastern nation of Lebanon has undergone development and overall economic growth despite the conflict between the nation and neighboring states. Although Lebanon has experienced an overall increase in economic power, the distribution of wealth is largely unequal, causing more issues of poverty in the country. In order to gain a better understanding of poverty and how it is affecting the country, below are the top 10 facts about poverty in Lebanon.

Top 10 Poverty Facts about Lebanon

  1. Lebanon’s economy has grown exponentially since the beginning of development, offering citizens job opportunities to increase the standard of living. In 1988, Lebanon had a GDP of $3.31 billion. As of 2017, the country’s economy exponentially rose to an estimated $49.60 billion, which ranks 82nd highest in the world.
  2. Although GDP has certainly increased in recent years, the rate of economic growth in Lebanon has fluctuated. In some years since faster development, Lebanon experienced as low as a 56 percent decrease in GDP due to political instability and global economic decline. Most recently, however, Lebanon maintains an approximately successful 2 percent GDP growth rate.
  3. The service industry is Lebanon’s overwhelming largest economic sector, with specialized jobs and tourism services continuing to increase. The service industry accounts for a majority of the GDP in Lebanon at an estimated 73.3 percent, while industry and agriculture comprise 21 percent and 5.7 percent of the GDP, respectively.
  4. The unemployment rate in Lebanon is relatively average due to financial and political issues in the country, with an estimated 6.3 percent unemployment rate in 2017. While economic opportunity has been improved for many Lebanese, this number has actually stayed around the same over the past year, reaching the lowest of 6.2 percent unemployment.
  5. Although Lebanon’s economy has continued to grow, poverty in the country remains relatively prominent. Approximately 30 percent of the country’s grand total of six million people live under $4 a day. Poverty is much higher in the rural regions of the north, while it is less prominent in urban areas like the capital city of Beirut.
  6. Life expectancy in Lebanon has risen significantly catalyzed by rapid development throughout the country. In 1960, the average lifetime of people in Lebanon was an already relatively high 63.2 years and has increased to 79.6 years in 2016.
  7. School enrollment and persistence to end enrollment in Lebanon has fluctuated and decreased since the beginning of development. In 1999, about 90 percent of primary school students completed their full studies, while this number has decreased to 84 percent in 2016. Decreased educational persistence can trap some Lebanese into low-skill, high-demand job markets.
  8. Despite a decrease in primary school enrollment in Lebanon, the adult literacy rate in the country is high, standing at 91.18 percent. In young adults (ages 15 to 24), the literacy rate is substantially higher at 99.24 percent, and the male and female literacy rates are relatively equal with 99.16 percent and 99.34 percent, respectively.
  9. Nearly 500,000 people in Lebanon are Palestinian refugees registered with United Nations relief organizations in the country. This makes up an approximate 8 percent of the country’s population, but many continue to live in refugee camps in extreme poverty with limited access to diversified job markets.
  10. Poor Lebanese citizens and international refugees are more likely to be subjected to human trafficking. Refugees and women are particularly vulnerable to be involved in forced labor. Although the government has been working on decreasing the prevalence of forced labor and human trafficking in the country, results and impact have been inconsistent.

Lebanon has increased its economy, offering more opportunities for its people. A strong focus on the service and skilled industry, along with industrial and agricultural growth has allowed the country to increase its standard of living. Although the economy has developed significantly, poverty for some Lebanese and severe limitations for refugees still continues. With more freedom and better security for these people, poverty will continue to decrease in Lebanon.

– Matthew Cline
Photo: Flickr
 

Lebanon
Lebanon is a small nation wedged between the Mediterranean Sea to the west, Israel to the south and Syria to the northeast. Despite its size and a population of only six million, Lebanon became a center of trade in the Middle East during the mid-1900s. It is also known for its diverse culture in which Shia and Sunni Muslims live alongside a large Christian minority and other smaller groups.

The outbreak of the Lebanese Civil War in 1975 undermined the country’s prosperity and stability. The conflict lasted 15 years and Lebanon has struggled to recover ever since. While Lebanon remains a relatively wealthy nation in the region overall, its economic situation has become increasingly complicated and many people living in the country do not benefit from that wealth. Here are the top 10 facts crucial to know about poverty in Lebanon.

Top 10 Facts about Poverty in Lebanon

  1. More than 25 percent of Lebanese citizens live in poverty. That number sinks as low as 16 percent in urban areas like the capital city of Beirut, and climbs to 36 percent in some rural areas.
  2. A person living below the poverty threshold in Lebanon earns less than $266 per month.
  3. Children in poor families are less likely to be able to complete their education. This can trap them in low-skill, high-demand job-markets.
  4. As many as 20 percent of Lebanese citizens live with unimproved sanitation facilities; 10 percent of poor households have no access to clean drinking water.
  5. There are more than one million refugees in Lebanon, with most fleeing the Syrian civil war. Refugees are not counted in many official poverty statistics from Lebanon’s government, meaning that the effects of poverty are significantly more widespread than these statistics suggest.
  6. Nearly half a million Palestinian refugees are registered with U.N. relief organizations in Lebanon. Palestinians may make up as much as 10 percent of the country’s population but they lack several important rights. Many live in U.N. camps in extreme poverty and are denied access to certain types of work.
  7. Poor Lebanese citizens, refugees and women brought in from other countries around the world are vulnerable to human trafficking. Refugees are especially likely to be coerced into forced labor. In 2014, the Lebanese government committed to reducing human trafficking within the country, but the results have been inconsistent so far.
  8. Poor Lebanese workers are often trapped in high-turnover or seasonal jobs with low wages. Making matters worse, the government and U.N. cannot adequately support the huge refugee population in Lebanon, meaning that many of them must find work to survive. This pits citizens and non-citizens against each other. Lebanese workers suddenly face much higher competition for jobs. Meanwhile, refugees lack citizens’ legal protections, which forces many of them to work in difficult conditions for half or even a third of what native workers are paid.
  9. Women (especially heads of households) are often the most impacted by poverty. Many are culturally expected to raise and care for a family but are also forced to enter the workforce to provide additional income. These dual expectations can add to their burden, stifle their educational prospects and make it difficult for them to access highly-competitive jobs.
  10. Social safety programs are rare and inconsistent in Lebanon. Many families are forced to go hundreds or thousands of dollars into debt to cover unexpected expenses like medical bills.

Building a Safety Net

The Lebanese Civil War severely damaged the country’s economy and infrastructure and the modern refugee crisis has only increased the strain. That said, several promising programs could alleviate these problems and reduce the impact of poverty in Lebanon.

While Lebanon’s social programs are still relatively young and often haphazard, the government has formed two primary means of relieving poverty: the National Social Security Fund and the Emergency National Poverty Targeting Programme. Expanding and improving these programs along with continued investment in infrastructure and education could make an enormous difference in the lives of thousands of Lebanese citizens.

Unfortunately, these government programs do not cover refugees. U.N. humanitarian aid has traditionally stepped up to fill this void, but even these resources have recently begun to dry up.

Response from the International Community

These 10 facts about poverty in Lebanon illustrate a complex and ongoing struggle to improve living conditions in the country. As the Syrian conflict continues, the government of Lebanon will have to continue to cope with an unstable region and an increasingly large population of foreign refugees within its borders.

Thankfully, Lebanon is not alone. In April, around 50 countries met in Paris at the CEDRE Conference where they pledged to invest more than $11 billion into Lebanon’s economy. Time will tell if measures like these will accomplish their goal of restoring prosperity to Lebanon and, eventually, to the Middle East.

– Josh Henreckson
Photo: Flickr

refugees in Lebanon
Following the Syrian crisis, there has been a sizeable loss of the records on state affairs in Lebanon. The last conducted assessment took place in 2011, prior to the presence of refugees in Lebanon. This lack of gathered information has prevented the successful strategizing of poverty reduction and a definite increase in the total impoverished.

Assessment of Poverty in Lebanon

The assessment of 2011 estimates poverty in Lebanon to be 27 percent; however, that number is believed to have climbed with the introduction of more refugees to Lebanon. Palestinian refugees were already highly impoverished before the conflict in Syria, with two-thirds qualifying as poor or extremely poor. According to the Palestinian Return Centre:

  • The poverty line was determined as “$6 a day, which allows to cover basic food and non-food requirements of an adult refugee”
  • The extreme poverty line was determined as “$2.17 [which] allows purchasing enough food to satisfy the daily basic food needs of an adult Palestine refugee.”

Many refugees, however, are unable to meet even these minuscule thresholds. In this study of 2011, 65 percent of refugees are considered impoverished, and 6.6 percent are considered extremely impoverished, subsisting on less than $2 a day.

In addition to these statistics, there are a few schisms dividing those in poverty in Lebanon:

  • A staggering 56 percent of refugees in Lebanon are unemployed; in that number, there also exists high gender inequity
  • 65 percent of men are employed
  • Only 13 percent of women are employed 
  • Beirut, Nabatieh and Mount Lebanon have lower rates of poverty and extreme poverty
  • Beirut has 0.67 percent extreme poverty and 5.85 percent of poverty
  • Bekaa, South and North, in contrast, have a much higher rate of poverty
  • North has 17.75 percent extreme poverty and 52.57 percent poverty

In addition to the above, the regional divide data is from before the influx of refugees in Lebanon and has conclusively increased as well. The poverty rates in Lebanon are not dispersed equally among the people, but rather a heavy burden on certain areas and aspects of society.

Rapid Poverty Assessment and Lebanon Crisis Response Plan

The U.N. Refugee Agency reports that in 2018, 58 percent of refugee households now live in extreme poverty, and an overall 76 percent of refugees in Lebanon live below the general poverty line. These statistics continue to climb, but the Rapid Poverty Assessment of the UNDP aims to not only document updated numbers, but to also develop strategies and a plan to increase efforts against rising poverty, especially the rising poverty of refugees in Lebanon.

The Lebanon Crisis Response Plan, while a commendable humanitarian response to the rising issues, will need to actively increase efforts to quite an extent. The U.N. Refugee Agency estimates that another $2.7 billion will be needed to make the plan and approach effectual in implementation in Lebanon.

If the Rapid Poverty Assessment can successfully create a strategy to curb such rising poverty and a highly concentrated focus on the refugees in Lebanon can combine with a greater source of financial aid, then an innumerable amount of lives will be both benefitted, and saved.

– Lydia Lamm

Photo: Flickr