Coronavirus takes its toll on the livelihoods and economic prospects of millions around the world — in Lebanon, the situation is particularly dire. Trying to cope with the outbreak, the country faces an unprecedented economic crisis that is pushing an increasing number of families into poverty.
In recent months food access, availability and affordability have become major issues, affecting thousands of people. Even prior to the coronavirus outbreak, making ends meet and put food on the table was already a challenge for families. Hyperinflation, the unofficial devaluation of the Lebanese lira against the US dollar and economic recession have caused large-scale job losses and pay cuts in the country while food prices rise.
Through the European Union’s Madad Fund, with the support of Germany in collaboration with Lebanon’s Ministry of Social Affairs, WFP is urgently seeking to protect the most vulnerable. The aim is to create a sustainable social-assistance system, along with economic and fiscal policies around poverty and food security.
Since 2014, WFP and its partners have supported the Government’s social assistance programme targeting the poorest families through credit-card-sized food e-cards that provide monthly assistance of LBP 70,000 per person, for up to six people per family.
Lebanon’s National Poverty Targeting Programme (NPTP) has three components: education, health and food. WFP and its partners support the last component through the food e-card.
The initiative began with 5,000 families and gradually increased to include 15,000 by the end of 2019. These families represent close to 107,000 poor people whose difficulties have been made worse by the lockdown measures and the ongoing recession.
Families can redeem assistance at WFP-contracted shops across the country. Participating outlets are selected in accordance with strict WFP criteria covering the quality and quantity of food items, hygiene and pricing. Shops are regularly monitored to make sure WFP guidelines are followed.
“What’s important is that my children never go to bed hungry,” says Khaled, a father of nine from the Beqaa region. “With this card, we’re buying rice, beans, fruits and vegetables to feed the family.”
Khaled also explains how having the e-card removes the temptation of breaching lockdown restrictions to search for work. “I only left the house once or twice a month to go to the shop and buy food,” he says. “I didn’t have to go out every day and risk catching the virus or breaking the measures in order to find a job to feed my family.”
For Mayyada, a widowed mother of six, the card also means that all her family can enjoy a full meal. “We buy oil, burghul, lentils, rice, tea and as we prepare the meal we try to make it last for two days,” she says. “Inflation and a lack of jobs have hit us hard but everyone in my family is able to eat and benefit from this card.”
Mayyada’s youngest child is three years old and one of her other children, who is barely 10, has chronic kidney disease. “I can’t face sending my children to sleep without a meal,” she says.
Khalil, another NPTP food e-card user, echoes Mayyada and Khaled’s thoughts. For this father of nine, the assistance has come just in time. “I was in a car accident not long ago and my injuries drastically reduced my chances of finding a well-paid job to support my family,” he says. “For the longest time, I used to ask friends and other family members for support to put food on the table. This is every father’s nightmare.”
Khalil adds: “With this assistance, we also try to save food for the winter by preparing the mouneh (pantry stocks). I sometimes also buy some biscuits for my children. These are difficult times, but children are children. I thank God for this card because I don’t have to worry about struggling for a meal or even biscuits for them.”