UN Resident & Humanitarian Coordinator's Remarks at the Press Conference on the Emergency Response Plan (ERP)
Ladies and Gentlemen of the Press,
Good morning and welcome in the UN House,
As the UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Lebanon, and in the presence of other members of the humanitarian community, we will be happy to take your questions right after my remarks.
In my recent field visits, I met children, young and old Lebanese men and women. Their stories were heartbreaking, sometimes outrageous and shocking. I spoke with 15-year-old Chadi whose dream is simply to have a mobile phone and some decent clothes. “I should be in school, studying, taking money from my parents and not the other way around”, he told me. I met breadwinner mothers who were “ashamed” of waiting in lines to pick-up their food parcel; Never in their life have they depended on others to feed their children, they told me with tears triggered by feelings of despair. Yet, their main concern is to put food on the table and get a job that pays the rent. They worry about the safety of their children, about their education and their blurry future.
These are just examples of thousands of Lebanese who have fallen into multiple facets of poverty, battling to meet their very basic needs. The stories are countless and recounting them would take me days. In a nutshell, the hardships and tragedies of ordinary people have become insurmountable!
You all live here and know all too well the issues that Lebanon has been grappling with over the past two years: an economic and financial meltdown, the disastrous impact of the Beirut port explosions and the COVID-19 outbreak. Months-long political deadlock has added much to this multi-faceted crisis, fuelling popular protests and delaying meaningful reforms that would help slow down the deterioration.
The hyper-inflation corroding the value of the Lebanese pound has not only eroded people’s purchasing power but also prevented public and private service providers to continue offering basic goods and services at a reasonable price, or even at all. The severe fuel shortage that the country has been experiencing since August is a sheer example of that. The results have been debilitating: long queues for fuel that were shown by all televisions around the world, long queues for bread, for medicines, for babies’ formulas and recently for passports. The resilient people of Lebanon are now tired of being resilient, of thorny problems that life is throwing at them. They want simply to live in dignity.
Many people find themselves in a situation not even conceivable a year ago as Lebanon was still considered a high middle-income country. The majority of Lebanese people are now living in poverty. In March 2021, 78 per cent of the Lebanese population (i.e. 3 million people) were estimated to live below the poverty line while ‘extreme’ poverty reached as high as 36 per cent, which means 1.38 million Lebanese. And this is alarming! More and more Lebanese households are unable to afford basic expenses like food, health, electricity, water, internet, fuel and education. For the most vulnerable among the poor, the impact is extremely devastating, and surviving has become their only goal.
Starvation has become a growing reality for thousands of people. According to a joint World Bank-WFP assessment, 22 per cent percent of Lebanon’s families - almost a quarter of the total- were unable to meet their dietary needs by end of 2020 while acute malnutrition rates among children aged 6 months to 5 years have substantially increased in 2019 and 2020, with infant and young child feeding practices falling short of the global standard. These numbers have surely soared in 2021.
And yet the situation remains a living nightmare for ordinary people, causing unspeakable suffering and distress for the most vulnerable. Today, we estimate that more than 1 million Lebanese need relief assistance to cover their basic needs, including food.
To continue, the public health system is stretched beyond its limit from the double impact of the economic crisis and the COVID19 outbreak. People are increasingly unable to access and afford healthcare amid the growing shortages of medicines and medical supplies. Pharmacy shelves are empty, hospital stocks are nearly depleted and home medicine cabinets are bare. Cancer patients are paying a hefty price, with the majority forced to stop their life-saving treatment. And this is unacceptable. This is like a ‘death penalty’ for all those whose lives depend heavily on medication! All the more, the loss of salary values meant that skilled healthcare workers migrated elsewhere, leaving behind a struggling health sector as COVID-19 continues to require adequate care.
Education in Lebanon has been equally hard-hit. According to UNICEF, at least 1.2 million children -including Lebanese, Syrian and Palestinian children- have had their education disrupted for more than a year. And despite efforts to reopen schools, the current energy crisis is jeopardizing the school year.
As with health workers, the devaluation of the Lebanese pound has significantly affected teachers’ salaries, pushing many to seek opportunities elsewhere. Many families are unable to cover the cost of education. Children’s mental health is also at stake, with 32 per cent of Lebanese children provided with psychosocial support at the beginning of 2021 compared to only 10 per cent in 2020. In parallel, the number of children engaged in child labour is dramatically increasing as one of the most flagrant negative coping mechanisms adopted by vulnerable families.
Due to electricity shortage, water supply is on the verge of collapse and critical services are severely affected, including hospitals. If the situation continues to worsen, up to 4 million people will potentially be affected by water shortages or be completely cut off from water, including one million refugees.
In fact, the crisis has been also weighing heavily on refugees. The preliminary findings of the 2021 Vulnerability Assessment of Syrian Refugees in Lebanon (VASyR) released two days ago, reveal a dire situation with nine out of ten Syrian refugees falling under the extreme poverty line – a 60 per cent increase since 2019. Half of the Syrian families are now food insecure and about two-thirds have to limit food portion sizes or reduce the number of meals consumed per day.
High levels of poverty are also reported within the 257,000 Palestine refugees living in Lebanon and tensions in camps are growing, which increased pressure on UNRWA to double relief assistance and attenuate tensions.
On the other hand, migrants, who traveled in the past to Lebanon in search for jobs and better living conditions, have been living under precarious situations. According to a recent assessment by the International Organization for Migration (IOM), 70 per cent of mostly Asian and African migrant and domestic workers living in Lebanon (about 400,000 persons) report being stranded in the country without work or the means to return home, and hence find themselves unable to meet their basic food needs.
For everyone, including Lebanese, illegal migration, including through criminal networks, has been an increasingly adopted ‘way out’ of the country. Sea departures are on the rise and for refugees, there is a considerable risk of chain refoulement.
For the UN and humanitarian partners, it is a matter of professional and legal responsibility to continue to assist and protect the Syrian and Palestine refugees in Lebanon, as well as the communities who host them. It is also a humanitarian imperative to assist the Lebanese people and foreign migrants throughout the country who are currently suffering the most. Failing to do so is not just a matter of fairness and principles, but equally one of stability and “do no harm”.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The stories of shock, of loss, of distress and of despair shared with me by the people, were countless ever since I joined the UN family in Lebanon in August 2020. These heart-breaking stories were our impetus to deploy every effort to help the people of Lebanon emerge from these unprecedented and subsequent crises.
We have a special obligation to act. That’s why with the generous contributions of donors, we – the UN and our humanitarian partners in Lebanon- have been working tirelessly to mitigate and contain the effects of this multi-faceted crisis since 2020.
As unaddressed needs remained considerable, I decided in June 2021 to lead the humanitarian community in articulating a whole-of-Lebanon, time-bound, prioritized and evidence-based collective humanitarian response plan to complement existing programs. The Emergency Response Plan was announced in the margins of the 4th of August co-chaired UN-France conference on Lebanon, to address critical humanitarian needs among Lebanese and migrants that were not previously responded to.
The ERP includes 119 projects for a total of US$383 million, aiming at providing critical life-saving assistance and protection over the coming 12 months to 1.1 million Lebanese and migrants among the most vulnerable, in the sectors of education, food security, health, nutrition, water and sanitation, child protection and protection against gender-based violence. In response to the energy and fuel crisis, the plan also includes an emergency logistic operational plan focusing on establishing a fuel supply chain to ensure the continuity of the work of humanitarian actors on the one hand and provide fuel (over a very limited period of time) to critical health, water and sanitation establishments across Lebanon on the other hand.
The activities articulated in the ERP mostly revolve around providing direct support to beneficiaries. This includes: (1) distribution of food and cash assistance to around 500,000 people; (2) improved access to doctors and medicine in Primary Health Care centers for around 250,000 people; (3) provision of legal aid and access to safe houses for victims of home violence; (4) distribution of sanitary products for women and girls and 100,000 hygiene kits to protect families from COVID19; (5) provision of psychosocial support for approximately 100,000 children and other most-at risk-population; (6) nutritional surveillance and provision of food supplements for 400,000 young children, pregnant and lactating mothers; (7)provision of distance and in-person learning to children.
Each part of the plan, structured around a specific sector, articulates clear objectives in terms of targeted population and impact of the interventions, which will help us closely monitor and on regular basis the implementation of the plan, be it at the level of funding or at the level of tracking achievements and potential risks/challenges. And because transparency and accountability are our guiding principles and shared values, these reports will be publicly available.
Last August, in the UN-France co-chaired conference in support of people of Lebanon, donors generously pledged US$370 million to fund the ERP. We count on their boundless generosity to urgently fulfil their pledges to allow for timely delivery of the emergency plan’s life-saving projects. The funding they provide will save lives and make an enormous difference in alleviating the hardship of the most vulnerable.
In addition to that, a total of US$10 million from the Central Emergency Response Fund in New York and the Lebanon Humanitarian Fund managed by OCHA, was also disbursed early September to immediately finance the fuel delivery component of the plan. Such flexible funding mechanisms are crucial to save lives and meet urgent humanitarian assistance. Every dollar counts!
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Clearly, to build forward better, a new set of humanitarian interventions will not be a lasting solution for Lebanon. Humanitarian action is meant to be by nature short-term, temporary and unsustainable. It primarily aims at saving lives and alleviating the suffering of the people. It is not meant to solve the root causes and drivers of a crisis. Only a sustainable solution can give back the pride and dignity to those impacted.
Lebanon is no exception. We are doing our utmost to mitigate the current precarious situation, but ultimately the responsibility lies in the hands of Lebanon’s leaders to take the necessary actions and adopt much-needed reforms to help Lebanon stand back on its feet and move towards the path of recovery.
In fact, throughout my interactions with the Lebanese authorities, including the new Government, I have stressed the fundamental responsibility of the Government, as the principal duty-bearer, to ensure that people have safe, sustained and dignified access to basic social services. These are legitimate and inalienable human rights!
Ladies and Gentlemen,
From this platform, I reiterate the UN, together with international partners, our resolve and commitment to support the new Government in addressing the root causes of the crisis and most importantly in putting the people at the center of policies and plans.
Lebanon faces a hard road. So, reforms need to be implemented urgently to alleviate the hardship of the people and put an end to the mounting humanitarian needs. An Inclusive and Comprehensive Social protection is a MUST to help protect the most vulnerable and avoid an increased impoverishment of the population.
Lebanon greatest richness lays with its people, with its remarkable human capital. So, preserving this richness is the best investment we can do to help Lebanon get back on its feet and move towards a prosperous future. While working tirelessly on addressing the urgent and immediate needs in Lebanon, our hopes remain on laying the groundwork for a sustainable development agenda that puts Lebanon back on track.
A brighter future is still possible in Lebanon if we act together and if we act NOW. We stand right by the people of Lebanon.
Thank you for your attention. Shukran.