The UN children’s agency has warned that children in Lebanon face critical levels of hunger, illness and missed education as 80 per cent of the population has been plunged into poverty by the country’s economic crisis, deemed one of the world’s worst since 1850.
Unicef said 34 per cent of Lebanon’s 6.8 million population were suffering “extreme poverty”, and this figure was 90 per cent among the 1.5 million Syrian refugees living in the country.
In a plea for Lebanon’s government to provide a safety net for children, UN agency representative Yukie Mokou said: “The staggering magnitude of the crisis must be a wake-up call. Urgent action is needed to ensure no child goes hungry, becomes sick, or has to work rather than receive an education.”
Her statement accompanied the release by Unicef of an eight-page survey conducted in April and October of 800 families. The survey reveals that deteriorating living conditions continue unabated.
“The future of an entire generation of children is at stake,” warns the report, entitled, Surviving without the Basics: The ever worsening impact of Lebanon’s crisis on children.
Unicef found monitored households had to resort to “negative coping mechanisms that often place children at risk”. In October, in 53 per cent of families, at least one child missed a meal because of a lack of food in the home as compared with 37 per cent in April. Four in 10 families sold household possessions to buy food while seven in 10 had to buy food on credit or borrow money; 12 per cent of families sent children to work, up from 9 per cent in April. An estimated 440,000 refugees and 260,000 Lebanese schoolchildren might not return to class, the survey found.
Departure of medics
No primary healthcare was received by 34 per cent pf children – up from 28 per cent – while 90 per cent of families were affected by rising prices of medicine and many could not reach healthcare facilities due to high cost of transportation. The health crisis has been exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic and the departure of 1,000 medical professionals to pursue careers elsewhere.
“The near collapse” of Lebanon’s water sector poses a huge public health threat, the report noted, adding that water shortages affect 2.8 million people as well as vital facilities, including hospitals. This number could rise to four million, the report stated, resulting in an increase in “potentially deadly waterborne diseases”.
“Many more children than before experience forms of violence, and intimate partner violence affects more women, with direct consequences for the children in the household,” the report noted. This had consequences for people’s mental health.
Lebanon’s economic crisis has been exacerbated by high coronavirus rates, extensive damage inflicted on Beirut by the massive port explosion in August 2020 and constant wrangling among politicians preventing them from addressing the country’s collapse.