Lebanon’s political dysfunction has prompted a humanitarian emergency for Lebanese, which is converging with the ongoing Syrian refugee crisis. Donors have mobilized support for refugees, but they have not adequately addressed the rising crisis among Lebanese. The latter crisis is becoming larger in size and scale and is likely to endure.
In November 2021, Syrians working in a small town in eastern Lebanon had their wages cut to just under $2 a day. But it was not their employers that slashed their salary. The municipality of Ras Baalbek said that the United Nations supports Syrians with cash assistance, and it would not be fair for Syrians to be better off economically than their Lebanese hosts, write Will Todman and Caleb Harper of the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
At issue is not merely the international support Syrians enjoy, but also widespread rumors that the Syrians are growing rich on aid delivered in U.S. dollars while Lebanese workers struggle with the depreciating Lebanese lira. With more Lebanese slipping into poverty amid the country’s economic collapse, the aid that international actors have long provided to refugees is contributing to tensions between refugees and their host communities.
The decade-long conflict in Syria has driven a long-standing international aid response to the refugee crisis in Lebanon. Aid organizations provide in-kind and cash assistance, shelter, access to healthcare and education, and livelihoods support to vulnerable Syrian refugees and host communities. In 2020, donors provided more than $1.4 billion for this response.
But Lebanon’s political crisis is now creating unprecedented humanitarian needs for Lebanese, the size and scale of which are rapidly increasing. Overall, Lebanon’s poverty rate has doubled in two years, from 42 percent in 2019 to 82 percent in 2021. While much of Lebanon’s poverty had struck non-citizens before the current political crisis, now one-third of all Lebanese are food insecure, and 77 percent of Lebanese households live in multidimensional poverty. Aid organizations now give Lebanese many of the same kinds of support they give to Syrians through a smaller emergency response appeal seeking $378 million. As these crises converge, failing to implement an equitable and efficient humanitarian response to the different vulnerable groups could fuel intercommunal tensions, which could lead to violence and displacement.
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