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RISING POVERTY AND FOOD PRICES: THE MAIN CONCERN FOR ACTION AGAINST HUNGER AFTER THE FIRST MONTH OF THE EMERGENCY.
One month after the explosion that struck the economic and social heart of Beirut, the city and the country are facing a multi-layered crisis that is driving up the poverty figures. The impact of the emergency is latent, and although there has been a relaxation of restrictions on movement in the face of pressure from traders and entrepreneurs, the economy has not been revived. According to the United Nations, 55 percent of the population in Lebanon lives below the poverty line, of which 23 percent suffer from extreme poverty. “Our teams on the ground are making a strenuous effort to address the various crises – socio-economic, refugee, COVID-19 and explosion – that the country is facing. We are extremely worried by the increase in prices of food – by over 20% each month, and over 300% in a year. In addition to the urgent need to cover basic needs in terms of food, water and sanitation and shelter for those affected by the explosion, we are seeing many people losing their jobs and unable to buy increasingly expensive food, which is going to have an effect in the short and medium term, especially in terms of food security,” explains Aurélie du Châtelet, advocacy coordinator for Action Against Hunger in Lebanon, from Beirut. She continues: “State subsidies for fuel, wheat and medicines are about to stop and is likely to cause a bigger increase in price. How will people be able to afford eating enough? We are receiving reports of individuals reducing their number of meals, and eating less meat, dairy, fruits and vegetables. This paves the way to malnutrition.”
In addition to the job destruction associated with the explosion, after which many shops and businesses have been forced to close, small and medium-sized enterprises were under pressure from the impact of the Covid-19 “The shops that had not closed because of the economic crisis associated with the pandemic have now closed because of the losses and material damage they suffered after the explosion,” adds du Châtelet. The government has thus partially lifted restrictions and curfews following complaints from the business community, which was severely affected by the socio-economic crisis and the explosion.
Our teams on the ground are working to provide a comprehensive response to the multiple needs that this crisis has aggravated. We have carried out assessments in different areas of the city and, in addition to the material losses that translate into demands to be able to rehabilitate their homes and businesses, the situation requires direct measures to reactivate trade. “We are satisfied with the progress made in clearing away debris and the enormous solidarity that has made it possible to cover the initial needs for food and shelter, but we are extremely concerned about the situation of small family businesses who were damaged and who are now losing demand because of hyperinflation. Continuing to do food distributions is likely to put small local businesses at risk so we think it is essential to prioritise the distribution of liquidity to enable them to reactivate and move on,” emphasises Aurélie du Châtelet. For the Advocacy coordinator of Action Against Hunger, monetary aid and advice to small and medium-sized enterprises is key to the country’s economic recovery. Our team advocates for this type of aid, which allows many people to pay for their homes and buy food and hygiene items.
Efforts need to be continued in terms of debris removal, building rehabilitation, and repairs to the water networks. Although significant progress has been achieved in rebuilding the water network, nearly half of the households near the explosion site still need to be connected to the network. Over 500 buildings, housing 75 000 people, still need to have their water and sanitation network repaired so they can access water.
Action Against Hunger is also helping to coordinate the response of international NGOs in the country, where it has displaced its emergency team to provide an immediate response and support medium-term rehabilitation.
Our organization has been working in the country since 2006 with a team of 150 people, being one of the main organizations providing, among others, water and sanitation to the informal settlements where 1.5 million Syrian refugees live. Among the objectives of our team is to improve the living conditions of people in vulnerable situations, guaranteeing access to basic water and sanitation services, health and nutrition, and strengthening their livelihoods.
– The explosion has further aggravated the hyperinflation plaguing the country: the cost of food increased by 336% in a year.
– Poverty is rising: 55% of the population lives in poverty, 23% in extreme poverty. They cannot afford any more basic food items. 60% of the Lebanese and 78% of the Syrian struggle to bring sufficient food on the table.
– The removal of debris and the first emergency aid have made good progress, but help is still badly needed to cope with the loss of jobs and livelihoods.
– Action Against Hunger calls for priority to be given to monetary aid over the distribution of goods in order to revive local trade as soon as possible.
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