Lebanon’s children bearing brunt of country’s crises – Unicef

Recession, political deadlock and Covid-19 have left families in ‘dire situation’

A  boy collects items from the street as a fire burns behind  during a protest in Beirut against living conditions amid the ongoing economical and political crisis. Photograph: Marwan Tahtah/AFP/Getty

A boy collects items from the street as a fire burns behind during a protest in Beirut against living conditions amid the ongoing economical and political crisis. Photograph: Marwan Tahtah/AFP/Getty

 

Lebanon’s children are bearing the brunt of their country’s economic meltdown, political deadlock and Covid-19 contagion, according to the United Nations Children’s Fund, Unicef.

“A series of mutually reinforcing crises, including a devastating recession, have left families and children in Lebanon in a dire situation, affecting just about every aspect of their lives,” the organisation said, as it published a survey on the impact of the Lebanon crisis on children’s lives.

“With no improvement in sight, more children than ever before are going to bed hungry in Lebanon,” said Yukie Mokuo, Unicef representative in Lebanon. “Children’s health, education and their very futures are affected as prices are skyrocketing and unemployment continues to increase.”

She said more and more families were being forced to resort to measures such as sending their children to work in often dangerous and hazardous conditions, marrying off their young daughters or selling their belongings.

The Unicef survey found that 30 per cent of children in Lebanon skipped meals or went to bed hungry last month, while 77 per cent of households did not have enough food or enough money to buy food. In Syrian refugee households, that figure reached 99 per cent.

One-third of children receive no primary healthcare while 15 per cent no longer go to school.

Compounding crises

Unicef said the protracted economic depression was just one of the compounding crises in Lebanon, which was reeling from the impact of the pandemic and the aftermath of the massive August 2020 Beirut port explosions, as well as the persistent political instability.

“While the 1.5 million Syrian refugees are the most hard-hit, the number of Lebanese people in need of support is growing rapidly,” it said.

Although the Lebanese parliament has approved $556 million (€470 million) in monthly cash payments of $93 to 500,000 poor Lebanese families to compensate for rising costs, the government has yet to raise funds and organise entitlement cards.

Since mid-2019, Lebanon’s import-dependent economy has collapsed and the value of its currency has plunged by 90 per cent pegged against the dollar, depriving residents of essential food, medicine and fuel. The UN estimates 55 per cent of Lebanon’s population lives in poverty.

Divided politicians

The country’s divided politicians have failed to form an independent government capable of tackling the interlocked crises and unlocking $21 billion in international aid.

Deadlock has forced outsiders to come to the rescue. The World Bank has financed Lebanon’s Covid-19 vaccine roll out, driving down infection and death rates. France has increased pressure on politicians to agree on a cabinet by imposing sanctions on unnamed individuals while working on a financial mechanism to fund projects independent of the politicians.

A Turkish company has resumed supplying Lebanon with electricity from two power barges anchored offshore, although Lebanon owes the firm $100 million. As it provides about one-quarter of Lebanon’s electricity, this will add four to six hours daily to the supply and reduce blackouts.

The International Monetary Fund is expected to provide $900 million to shore up the dangerously depleted reserves of the central bank which, under pressure, has reduced subsidies on fuel, raising prices by 35 per cent and prompting street protests.