In response to the Syrian Crisis and the increasing influx of Syrian displaced to Lebanon, the Ministry of Social Affairs in coordination with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), organized a press conference to launch the "Lebanese Host Communities Support Programme" on 28 February.
The press conference was organized under the patronage of the Minister of Social Affairs H.E Mr. Wael Abou Faour, in the presence of Minister of Interior H.E Mr. Marwan Charbel, and the Minister of higher education H.E Mr. Hassan Diab, Director General Walid Arbeed representing the Minister of Health H.E. Mr. Ali Hassan Khalil, UNDP Resident Representative Mr. Robert Wakins, ambassadors of donor countries, and representatives of international organizations and NGOs.
This initiative aims at supporting Lebanese host communities struggling to cope with the tremendous additional burden in an already harsh socio-economic environment. The fund will be used to implement projects falling under Output 3 of the Lebanese Government Response Plan: "Assist the Lebanese hosting communities to preserve social cohesion, solidarity and prevent conflict and tension.
H.E. Minister Wael Abu Faour, emphasized the lack of funds available to carry out extensive intervention in areas supporting the Syrian displaced. “We are sending warning signals,” Abu Faour said “adding that the donations already made were not enough. More help is needed to avoid an explosion sooner or later between the Syrians and host communities, and the Lebanese and the government.”
The launch of the Government of Lebanon response plan at the end of 2012 provided further impetus for the formulation of a strategic response specifically targeting Output 3 addressing "Lebanese hosting communities to preserve social cohesion, solidarity and prevent conflict and tension". Subsequent consultations with the international community demonstrated strong support in principle for the Government's effort to develop and launch a national plan, while highlighting the need for more effective mechanisms of coordination between the GoL and international actors as well as coherent, evidence-based results and monitoring frameworks. Finally, the need for options in funding mechanisms has been expressed to meet variable donor requirement and ensure maximum support for the national response, both directly and indirectly. Last month's pledging conference in Kuwait has underscored this need.
“For over two years now, the Syrian crisis has increasingly impacted Lebanese communities” said Watkins, “Recent months, however, have witnessed an especially sharp upsurge in refugee flows, with more than 317,000 now receiving assistance. For perspective, this represents a 400% increase in those registered in less than a year, and a doubling in the past three months alone” added Mr. Watkins.
On the other hand, UNHCR Regional Director resident representative Ninette Kelley acknowledged the great role that Lebanon has played in providing shelter for the refugees, mentioning that Lebanon accommodates the largest number of Syrian refugees despite the small area of its land.
The international community implements a range of humanitarian support interventions for the displaced that include some benefits for host communities. However, these efforts have remained largely secondary and unconnected, without a strategic approach sufficient to aggregate impact and visibility proportional to the scale of the crisis. In this connection, the UN Task Force on Support to Lebanese Communities, co-chaired by UNDP and UNHCR, has brought some twenty UN agencies, NGOs and government representatives together to help develop a better understanding of needs and responses, including the development of the broad frames of a strategic response for affected communities.
The Minister of Interior and Municipalities Marwan Charbel, stated that "the increasing number of Syrian refugees exceeded our energies," revealing that "the current number of Syrians in Lebanon skips one million persons," explaining that "refugees are distributed on 3 categories: the former Syrian workers who came with their family at the beginning of the Syrian crisis, the wealthy category who rented hotels and homes, and the poor category who came leaving behind their homes and properties.
With nearly 300,000 people now receiving assistance across Lebanon the increasing influx of Syrian displaced has led to a growing crisis among Lebanese host communities struggling to cope with the tremendous additional burden in an already harsh socio-economic environment. In addition, the collapses of trade, decreased access to cross-border services, and associated increases in the cost of living have all dramatically affected the livelihoods of Lebanese communities.
Lebanon now hosts the greatest number of displaced in the region, unlike other countries, they are scattered across the country, hosted directly by Lebanese families or accommodated at the local level. This burden is greatest in the North, already the poorest region in Lebanon, and the Bekaa. Local infrastructure and capacity to provide for basic service delivery was already particularly stretched in these areas prior to the crisis and is now significantly overburdened by the sharp increase in demand: with displaced reaching nearly 50% of the population in some areas. As a result, the immense generosity displayed by Lebanese host communities through the past two years of the crisis has come under increasing strain, with reported incidents of intra-communal violence on the rise. Local authorities remain ill-equipped to mediate the increase in competing demands between populations, potentially threatening social cohesion through rising tension and conflict.