Lebanon: How long can people overcome crisis after crisis?

CARE packages being collected for distribution in Beirut

Hala’s face is lit with a big smile that you can see even under her face mask.

Hala lives in the northern suburbs of Beirut in one of the neighbourhoods affected by the explosion in August last year. She cares for her husband, who had a debilitating stroke two years ago, and her two children. She relies on assistance from her neighbours and relatives, and on the patience of her landlord – she is several months behind with rent payments.

Yet despite everything, she remains positive – thanks in part to psychosocial support from a local NGO partner of CARE. She says:

It’s been a long time since I’ve felt this good. They taught me to recognise how resilient I am, to have more confidence in myself, to be stronger, to look at myself in a mirror with pride, to be more indulgent towards myself and to have more confidence in myself.

Hala also received a hygiene kit, which CARE has distributed to more than 2,000 women and girls in Beirut. She says:

The hygiene kits were also very useful especially with soap, shampoo, deodorant and sanitary towels. I haven’t used a deodorant for a long time, and for sanitary towels, I try to save them.

Ghada is another who is struggling to provide for her family as Lebanon reels from a year of multiple crises. The windows of her apartment were shattered by the August explosion. To replace her windows, Ghada had to go into debt and hasn’t paid her rent for months. She is aware that the owner can throw her out at any moment.

Both Ghada and her husband have jobs, yet the economic crisis and the plummeting value of the Lebanese lira means a combined income that used to be the equivalent of US$1500 is now worth less than $300.

Ghada has also received psychosocial support and a hygiene kit. She says she has always been confident in herself but the sessions have taught here to “no longer be silent”. She says:

Before when a man would hit on me in the street, I would look down to the ground and keep quiet; now I can defend myself. Now I would shout on him in public and shame him.

Yet providing for her family remains a constant worry. Ghada says she eats only one meal a day, to ensure her children do not go without. She says:

Things got even more difficult after the Beirut explosion, but I do with what I have. The most important thing is that my children do not starve.

The population of Lebanon is now facing further lockdowns in response to soaring coronavirus cases. CARE is particularly worried about the impact on people’s economic situation and ability to access food, especially amongst the most vulnerable such as refugees and women-headed households.

What do people see as their biggest challenges?

At the end of 2020 CARE Lebanon interviewed 283 different Lebanese and Syrian households, covering three main districts across Lebanon – Mount Lebanon, Tripoli, and Akkar – to establish people’s most pressing needs. Across all sectors of society, livelihoods, economic capacity and access to food were the biggest challenges:

  • Only 18 per cent of people interviewed were in full time work. Some of the most common, unstable types of work were daily labourers including taxi drivers, carpenters, farmers, blacksmiths, painters, restaurant workers, and concrete workers.
  • 42% of the families said the cost of healthcare was a barrier to them accessing it.
  • 65% of female-headed households reported they were living with food insecurity, with the highest levels of food insecurity in the Mount Lebanon area.
  • 94% of the population of Lebanon are now earning below the minimum wage.
  • 72% of people reported they were living in debt, mostly due to food expenses.

Bujar Hoxha, Country Director of CARE International in Lebanon, says:

The amount of crises Lebanon has undergone over the last year would make even high-income countries look vulnerable. What our own needs assessment study has shown is that this is a crisis that is not just impacting the poorest and most vulnerable, but even the middle classes and traditionally wealthier populations.

He adds:

One story that comes to mind is 6-year-old Ibrahim and 9-year-old Mathab, who are now surviving on just a little bread dipped in sweet tea. These young Syrian refugees have been living in Lebanon since the start of the crisis. Examples like this are becoming more and more common.

CARE continues to work despite the lockdown, and within the guidelines, to respond to the ongoing crisis and cover the needs of the most vulnerable, including both host and refugee communities. CARE is distributing food and other essential parcels throughout Beirut and other regions of the country.

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