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Lebanon: Children survive on potato and rice as their food intake is cut in half

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As the government lifts subsidies, more children are at eating less than ever before, Save the Children warns

Children in Lebanon are skipping many of their meals as parents struggle to afford basic foods that have almost quadrupled in price in a year.

Potato, rice and lentils are all that is on the table for families who have shared with Save the Children what they ate for seven consecutive days. A Lebanese family of six with children aged between 12 and 16 years said they’d had 11 meals that week, including only two meals in two days. This is down 50% from three meals a day a year ago.

A Syrian family living in north Lebanon reported that their three children did not consume any nutritious food during the week. The family’s six-month-old baby was not being breastfed and only had cow’s milk and cereal. According to Save the Children’s nutrition experts, this is not healthy for a baby of that age and could hold back the infant's development if he does not have more nutritious food.

Both families have had to ration the little food they have and drastically change their diets to cope with the rising food prices in Lebanon, Save the Children said.

According to the families’ food diaries, they were surviving on either a lunch of mashed potatoes or a shared plate of bulgur for dinner.

A diet diversity score done by Save the Children showed that neither family scored more than two points for a single meal, except on one occasion. The minimum ‘acceptable’ score for children’s nutritional health is four points.[i]

Salma*, 16, said her family is now leaving the longest possible break between meals for food to last longer.

“The food we’re eating now is vastly different from what we used to eat a year ago; we used to have three meals a day: breakfast, lunch and dinner,” said Salma*. “Now it’s a late breakfast and an early dinner. There were always eggs, milk, cheese and labneh (yoghurt) in our breakfast. Even though we didn’t eat meat and chicken every day, we had it every week and my mother would sometimes stock [it] in the freezer. Fruits and vegetables were also constant; now we barely have any.”

Farida*, a mother of three, told Save the Children that almost all food is now out of reach for her family.

“We go days without bread because it’s either expensive or unavailable. Fruits and vegetables are a rarity in our house and we haven’t had meat or chicken in a full year. All dairy products are expensive; there is no milk or cheese in our family. Thyme is our go-to for breakfast. We don’t have electricity so our fridge is barely used.

“My greatest fear is that my children will fall sick because they lack nutritious food. I’m fully aware they’re not getting the nutrients they need, like calcium and protein and how this is affecting their physical and mental growth.”

The price of essential foodstuffs has increased by 390% in just one year according to the latest data from the Lebanese government.[ii] Consumers are paying at least three times as much as a year ago for bread, grains, vegetables or meat.

Since late 2019, Lebanon has sunk into one of the worst economic crises since the mid-nineteenth century,[iii] with the highest annual inflation rate in the world.[iv] The food crisis is compounded by power shortage, where blackouts often last for over 20 hours, making it impossible to store perishable foods such as dairy and meats.

The Lebanese government has all but lifted subsidies on fuel, medicine and wheat, a move that Save the Children says will harm the poorest in the country if no genuine alternative is provided.

Jennifer Moorehead, Save the Children's Country Director in Lebanon, said:

“Families are telling us they are skipping meals so their children can eat. This is what the vulnerable population in Lebanon is resorting to amid skyrocketing prices. We are talking about families who no longer have access to a bag of bread, let alone a full healthy meal. This is the shocking reality for millions.

“It is critical for the world to understand that what is happening in Lebanon is unprecedented. People of all nationalities and backgrounds across the country are in a daily struggle to secure food for their children. We need to act now to save lives and prevent more suffering for children and their families.”

Save the Children is providing cash and counselling services to vulnerable families like Farida's* so their children can thrive. Through this "cash plus" approach, children are protected from the impact of increasing poverty in Lebanon.

Save the Children is calling on the new Lebanese government to roll out planned cash assistance programmes to help the most vulnerable children and their families. It is also urging donors to fund cash assistance programmes, to protect families from the unprecedented increase in poverty facing the country.

Notes to editors:

Save the Children observed the daily food intake of two families from Lebanon and Syria for a week. The following meals were recorded over seven days:

Syrian family of five, three children aged 6, 4 and 6 months, living in north Lebanon

They had 13 meals over seven days:

  • Day 1: two meals: Breakfast: thyme with olive oil and bread; Lunch/early dinner: Pasta. 6-month-old baby: Rice flour with milk cereal. Score: 0 - Day 2: Two meals: Breakfast/Dinner: Lentil soup. Baby: cow milk. Score: 1 (legume)

  • Day 3: Two meals: Breakfast: Hummus and pickles (turnip and cucumber); Dinner: Minced eggplant. Baby: cow milk. Score: 2 (legume and “other” veg)

  • Day 4: Two meals: Breakfast: thyme with olive oil and bread; Dinner: 6 eggs, tomatoes and cucumbers. Baby: cow’s milk. Score: 2 ( eggs, “other” veg)

  • Day 5: One meal: Thyme with olive oil and bread. Score: 0 - Day 6: Two meals: Breakfast: 5 thyme manakish; Dinner: Bulgur. Baby: Rice flour with milk cereal. Score: 1 (grain)

  • Day 7: Two meals: Lunch: Bulgur; Dinner: Bulgur. Baby: Rice flour with milk cereal. Score: 1 (grain)

Analysis: Children in this family are not getting any nutrient-rich foods, relying on thyme, bread, and olive oil as the primary sources of calories. Thyme eaten regularly has virtually no caloric value, although is a source of small amounts of vitamin K and iron. Only on two days were any vegetables eaten, including cucumber, tomato, and eggplant. No fruits or any vitamin A-rich foods were consumed. Children ate legumes on 2 days, and only on one day had animal protein (eggs). At this age, children require nutrient-dense foods and a varied diet including foods like meat, poultry, fish, eggs and dairy products.

Lebanese family of six, four children aged 16, 15, 14 and 12 living in North Lebanon

They had 11 meals over seven days:

  • Day 1: One meal: Dinner: Rice and lentils with chilli pickles. Score: 2 (grain and legume)

  • Day 2: Two meals: Breakfast: Thyme and olive with bread; Dinner: Rice, tea and thyme. Score: 1 (grain)

  • Day 3: Two meals: Lunch: Rice and lentils for lunch, minced boiled potato and chilli pickles; Dinner: Rice, raw onion, and chilli pickles. Score: 3 (grain/tuber, legume, “other” veg)

  • Day 4: Two meals: Breakfast: thyme with olive oil, olives and tea; Dinner: Rice and green peppers. Score: 2 (grain, “other” veg)

  • Day 5: Two meals: Lunch: Bulgur and tomatoes, minced potatoes, and black olives; Dinner: Bulgur and tomatoes, olives, bread and tea. Score: 2 (grain/tuber, “other” veg)

  • Day 6: One meal: Lunch: Mashed potatoes, onions and chilli. Score: 2 (tuber, “other” veg”)

  • Day 7: One meal: Lunch: Minced potatoes and olives. Score: 1 (tuber)

Children are skipping meals and are only getting one to two meals per day, including about half the week only one meal/day.

For further enquiries please contact:

Samantha Halyk samantha.halyk@savethechildren.org

Our media out of hours (BST) contact is media@savethechildren.org.uk / +44(0)7831 650409

We have our Lebanon Country Director available as a spokesperson.