BEIRUT — Though historically a relatively peaceful, well-off country, Lebanon has experienced recent struggles with their social services sector. A surge of Syrian refugees over the past few years has placed unexpected and unsustainable pressure on Lebanon and has left many struggling to make ends meet.
The results have included a rise in hunger in Lebanon and general lack of resources that now pose a threat to the growth and security Lebanon has historically enjoyed.
On the Eastern Mediterranean coast, the small, 10,000 square kilometer country of Lebanon lies densely populated with just over four million residents. Though in recent decades the country has enjoyed healthy growth and relatively high income, recent years have been met with rising debt, a lack of interest in investment and conflict both in the country and among its neighbors.
Making matters worse is the refugee crisis coming out of Syria. March 15 of this year marked the fifth year since the start of the Syrian conflict and the beginning of one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises in history.
With more than one million refugees now living in Lebanon, the country is home to the world’s largest number of refugees per capita. As of late, Lebanon’s population has been increased by more than one-quarter due to the surge of refugees.
For the small country, the strains placed on social services like health care, education and the food system have been substantial. The food system in Lebanon was already becoming a point of concern before the start of the refugee crisis when the conflict broke out between Israel and Hezbollah in 2006. The conflict ended with 900,000 people displaced and countless farms abandoned causing major setbacks for the agricultural sector.
Lebanon now finds itself in a delicate situation in which the population will soon outstrip the capacity of the food system unless a solution can be found. Hunger in Lebanon is made worse still by a population of refugees that have come to the country with next to nothing and have found little in the way of work since.
Currently, 70 percent of Lebanon’s refugee population live below the poverty line. In an effort to preserve jobs for Lebanese citizens, most refugees have been prohibited from working in the formal sector causing their earning power to be vastly reduced. Many now struggle to meet their basic needs and six out of every nine refugee families face heavy debt as they struggle to survive.
Hunger has become a daily reality for many now living in Lebanon. A recent survey found that among refugee families, one in three reports they have begun eliminating one of their three basic daily meals in an effort to save money.
Relief workers have been working tirelessly to provide assistance to the millions of refugees and the countries hosting them, but it all comes at a price. The World Food Programme through the U.N. has developed an electronic food voucher system, similar to a food stamp card, that is providing refugee families with improved access to locally produced food as well as boosting local economies.
Unfortunately, funding for the program is quickly waning and the U.N.’s capacity to provide food assistance will soon be in jeopardy. In 2016 alone, $7.7 billion in aid has been requested to help combat the Syrian refugee crisis and help meet basic needs including food and health care. Yet, with the year more than half over only three percent of the requested funding has been received.
With the conflict in Syria not appearing to come to a close anytime soon, it becomes increasingly critical that solutions and funding be found to help assist with the refugee crisis. Hunger in Lebanon, along with a lack of other basic social services, will only continue to worsen for refugees and natives alike as the added pressure placed on the country becomes unsustainable.
Countries like Lebanon have generously opened their doors to provide shelter for those fleeing Syria, now it is time to extend to them that same generosity and work together to solve the refugee crisis and ensure that hunger doesn’t have to be a reality.
– Sara Christensen