Ladies and Gentlemen of the Press,
Distinguished partners, colleagues, and friends,
Ahlan wa sahlan and thank you for joining us today.
More than two years since the start of the crisis, Lebanese are hanging on by a thread, their livelihood in tatters and their hopes almost shattered.
In my regular field visits, I have listened to stories of shock and of loss. Young people whose dream is simply to go to school are now chasing informal jobs to provide for their families. Others desperately seek to leave and start a new life elsewhere, leaving the country almost void of its most rich and promising human capital.
Today, I see familiar faces who joined me last year at the Press Conference to discuss the preliminary results of the ERP. Sadly, in less than a year, the situation has severely aggravated and further deteriorated.
According to World Bank estimates, real GDP is projected to contract by a further 6.5% in 2022, on the back of a 10.5% and 21.4% decline in 2021 and 2020 respectively. The exchange rate continues its sharp decline, losing 95% of its value by June 2022, while the cumulative inflation reached a devastating 890% since the onset of the crisis. The socio-economic meltdown in Lebanon has been further exacerbated by the impact of the Ukrainian crisis on the country, which is mainly reflected in the depletion of wheat reserves and the soaring prices of fuel items that are leading to drastic increases in bread prices and threatening food security.
Unemployment, another facet of poverty, has significantly increased and the minimum monthly wage has currently become less than $25, resulting in a significant decline in income and purchasing power. ILO’s Labour Force Survey issued in January 2022, paints a morbid picture of Lebanon’s struggling labor force as almost onethird of Lebanon’s labor force is unemployed, with a total unemployment rate tremendously increasing from 11.4 percent in 2018-2019 to 29.6 percent in 2022.
The situation of youth unemployment is even intolerable, as it stands at 47.8 percent among youth aged 15 to 24. Joblessness has become the tip of the iceberg, throwing away an entire productive and creative generation that can help build forward a better Lebanon.
Increases in the price of crude oil on the global market in recent months have been mirrored by further spikes in the prices of gasoline, diesel, and gas in Lebanon and the spillover effects of this sharp rise have been detrimental to the people. It threatens to tip thousands of families over the edge into food insecurity, malnutrition, and possibly hunger.
Our recent assessment shows that 2.2 million people require urgent support to secure access to food and other basic needs until the end of the year, an increase of 46 percent compared to last year. It also shows that 90 percent of families in Lebanon are now consuming less expensive food, 60 percent are limiting portion size, and 41 percent are reducing the number of meals, with children hardest hit. These are mind-blowing numbers that raise the alarm about food insecurity in the country. They also spur me to stress again on having a comprehensive and inclusive social protection policy that helps ensure people’s access to basic services and adopt a recovery and reform agenda in line with the human rights standards. This is the only possible exit strategy for the current situation as it will help bridge between the short-term emergency interventions, and a longer-term rights-based approach that guarantees a more dignified future for all the people.
The UN has worked closely with the Government of Lebanon to finalize this strategy and I welcome the Government’s endorsement of the Emergency Social Safety Net (ESSN) earlier this year. Despite this progress, the ESSN is not enough given the continuously increasing needs of families.
Concurrently, the health sector in Lebanon is on the verge of collapse at a time when the needs are significantly increasing. For example, 1.95 million people across Lebanon are requesting humanitarian health services, an increase of 43 percent since August 2021. These rising needs are obviously driven by the inability to access health services, including the unavailability and unaffordability of medications, the skyrocketing hospitalization costs, and the overstretched primary healthcare (PHC) facilities, to name a few. The situation is even direr for patients in need of medications for chronic illnesses, which are either at exorbitant prices or unavailable.
All the more, hospitals suffer from an acute shortage in medical supplies and power shortages, at a time when over 40% of Lebanon’s doctors and 30% of nurses have left Lebanon since the beginning of the economic meltdown, according to WHO. For Caretaker Minister of Public Health, Dr. Firas Abiad, the health sector is “a bomb waiting to explode.” This is alarming!
Another concerning impact of the electricity shortages is people’s access to safe water. Almost 4 million people are at immediate risk of being denied access to safe water in Lebanon, with alternative water supplies expected to be unaffordable to the most vulnerable households due to the soaring cost of fuel and the inefficiency of water establishments. With summer fast approaching, access to safe water will be extremely challenging for many families who cannot afford to buy bottled water, hence will be more likely forced to use unreliable sources that put the health of their family members at risk.
Lebanon’s crisis is affecting everyone, everywhere across the country, with women bearing the brunt of the profound impact of this multi-faceted crisis.
Alarmingly, gender-based violence and sexual exploitation and abuse are on the rise. We have received widespread reports of women and children feeling unsafe in public spaces such as streets, markets, or when using public transport. The multi-prolonged crisis has compounded the structural and endemic gender inequality and discrimination against women. The majority of women in Lebanon, around 75%, are jobless, and among the 25 percent who are in the labor force, 10 percent are unemployed compared to only 5 percent of men.
The crisis is also having a dramatic impact on children’s living conditions. According to a recently published report by UNICEF, hundreds of thousands of children in Lebanon are going to bed hungry, are not receiving the health care they need, and are unable to attend school due to their engagement in child labor, one of the most adverse coping strategy adopted by poor families. This reality is worsening by the day and children’s health and safety are being jeopardized. Our reports also show that since December 2020, routine vaccination of children under five has been steadily dropping.
Disturbingly, 460,000 children and women need nutrition services. The 2021 nutrition SMART survey showed that over 40 percent of children under five and women of reproductive age suffer from some form of nutritionrelated anemia, while an estimated 200,000 children under five suffer from a form of malnutrition, and approximately 7 percent of children are stunted, a worrying indicator of chronic malnutrition and unfortunately a reality that is likely to worsen if food insecurity continues to increase. Another recent nutrition survey conducted among Lebanese and Palestine refugees found that 9 out of 10 children do not get the nutrition they need to thrive later in life. On the education front, more than 65,000 boys and 70,000 girls struggle to access education mainly due to economic vulnerability as well as engagement in child labor, whereas 43 percent of migrant children are not enrolled at all in schools. In addition, 350,000 children need protection services due to the continued worsening socio-economic situation and the lack of basic goods and social services. The level of psychological distress of caregivers and children has also dramatically increased, leading to a rise in cases of child labor, child exploitation, and abuse. This must end! Children are the future of this country, and we all have to support them, empower them, and protect them now, to avoid a ‘lost generation’.
The rapid deterioration of the humanitarian situation in Lebanon required a steadfast response. Accordingly, the Humanitarian Country Team, under my leadership, launched a 12-month coordinated multi-sectoral Emergency Response Plan (ERP) to address the needs of the most vulnerable populations among the Lebanese, migrants, and Palestine refugees in Lebanon (PRL). The ERP complements the ongoing Lebanon Crisis Response Plan (LCRP) that addresses the impact of the Syria crisis in Lebanon. It is an emergency plan that aims at saving lives and alleviating people’s suffering in the short term.
We cannot continue to find short-term solutions to end these humanitarian needs. We need instead sustainable solutions that address the root causes of Lebanon’s compounding crises. This lies in the concept of “emergency development” that shapes the recently signed UN Cooperation Framework and presents a transitional phase to achieve sustainable development, which helps put an end to humanitarian needs with a focus on a humanitariandevelopment nexus.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Since its launch in August 2021, and thanks to our generous donors, the ERP has received so far 51.4 percent of its funding, which amounts to $197 million. Through this amount, and as of April 2022, humanitarian actors were able to assist more than 600,000 of the most vulnerable Lebanese, migrants, and Palestine refugees in Lebanon who were affected by the crisis.
From August 2021 till April 2022, nearly 650,000 persons were provided with food assistance on monthly basis, through in-kind or cash support; 300,000 people were supported with health interventions, including medicines for acute and chronic diseases, psychotropic medications, and reproductive health commodities; And about 286,000 people were provided with the minimum quantity of clean water per day.
All the more, and through the OCHA-led Pooled Funds, namely the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) and Lebanon Humanitarian Fund (LHF), I have allocated since mid-2021 to date a total amount of $53 million to sectoral and multisectoral projects to save lives and protect affected civilians across all population groups in Lebanon.
Through the emergency fuel provision, we have been able to support over 600 health facilities and water pumping stations to ensure the provision of life-saving services to the most vulnerable populations affected by this ongoing energy crisis and maintain the provision of basic services across Lebanon. This time-bound fuel operation ended but the energy crisis continues to threaten the supply of basic water and health services across the country, which jeopardizes the life of thousands of families in Lebanon. Therefore, I reiterate my urgent appeal to the Government to find a sustainable solution to this persisting energy crisis and take decisive actions in adopting the necessary reforms to address this problem.
Ladies and gentlemen of the press
Eleven months after the launch of the ERP, the humanitarian needs continue to grow exponentially.
According to the recent countrywide Multi-Sector Needs Assessment (MSNA), humanitarian needs have increased by 31% between 2021 and 2022. A staggering number of 2.2 million vulnerable Lebanese, 86,200 migrants, and 207,800 Palestine refugees in Lebanon (PRL) currently require emergency aid – in addition to 1.5 million Syrian refugees. They are unable to afford or even access health, food, electricity, water, education, and wastewater management, not to mention life-saving protection services.
According to the MSNA, 85 percent of Lebanese households reported that they did not receive any type of assistance at the household level during the three months prior to the assessment, while this percentage reached as high as 95 percent among migrant households and 66 percent among the Palestine refugees in Lebanon. This is appalling and clearly indicates the imperative for action to address the plight of millions of people in Lebanon who are in desperate need of help and humanitarian support.
For this reason, together with humanitarian actors, the Government of Lebanon, and our long-standing donors, we have extended the Emergency Response Plan until the end of 2022.
An additional $163 million is needed to fulfill the additional humanitarian needs of the mounting number of vulnerable people. This makes the total required funding of the ERP from August 2021 until December 2022, $546 million. The revised ERP will provide life-saving humanitarian support to 1 million vulnerable Lebanese, Palestine refugees, and migrants affected by the ongoing crisis.
I am heartened by the donors’ support for the people of Lebanon, and I count on their continued efforts to advance it on the ground despite the challenges we all know.
Ladies and Gentlemen of the press,
Despite the scale and magnitude of the hardships, I personally see this crisis as an opportunity to build forward better, and to unlock the potential that this country has in the path of development and recovery. Humanitarian assistance alone is not the solution, and the only path is reform and sustainable development.
Thank you for your attention. I am happy now to take your questions.