The preliminary findings of a 2016 survey assessing the vulnerability of Syrian refugees in Lebanon conducted by three UN agencies indicate more than 70% of them are living below the poverty line.
The findings of the survey, conducted by the World Food Programme (WFP), the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the UN children's fund (UNICEF), also point to "worrisome food consumption patterns in terms of the quality of food consumed" among this population.
The preliminary findings of the 2016 Vulnerability Assessment of Syrian Refugees survey, released September 19th, are based on information from 4,950 households, 72% of whom received direct financial assistance.
A full report will be released in the autumn.
Living below the poverty line
"The economic plight of Syrian refugees did not deteriorate as severely as last year, but we know that this is due to the oxygen of external help," said UNHCR's representative in Lebanon, Mireille Girard. "The situation would be even more dire without the aid received to date."
The preliminary findings showed an increase in the number of families living below the Survival Minimum Expenditure Basket (SMEB), defined as the amount a household needs to meet its basic needs.
They also found that the population remains extremely vulnerable to external shocks and reliant on humanitarian aid for survival.
Many households have exhausted their limited resources and are having to adapt to surviving on the bare minimum.
Additionally, many are caught in a "debt trap", Girard said.
According to the preliminary findings, 34% of refugee families are moderately food insecure, compared to 23% the previous year. The number of families who cut spending on food increased by 11%, while the number of families who buy food on credit increased by 7%.
The assessment also shows that "about 4.6% of children are underweight, compared to 2.6% for 2013", the last time this was measured.
It also shows that 54% of refugees need ongoing support to upgrade and repair shelters, and 41% live in unsafe dwellings such as makeshift tents in random camps, garages, warehouses, barns, industrial sites and unfinished buildings.
Programmes focus on most needy
The findings of the assessment of the status of Syrian refugees are drawing increased attention today, UNHCR assistant communications officer Lisa Abou Khaled told Al-Mashareq.
"While we continue the cash assistance programme for the poorest [refugees], we and our partners are currently focusing on the most needy, based on the conclusions of the assessment report," she said.
The programme is currently assisting 18% of those registered with UNHCR, she said, adding that "this percentage is low considering that 70% are living below poverty line and are in urgent need of assistance to remain at the minimum level".
"Our goal is to reach 25% of them by the end of this year, and 50% next year," she said.
In anticipation of the upcoming winter season, UNHCR is preparing a variety of programmes that focus chiefly on refugees living in the mountains and unsafe areas, she added.
"Studies have shown that half the refugees live in unsafe dwellings and need our intervention and the intervention of our partners," she said. "Today, we are working on securing logistical supplies."
Negative impact on children
Many Syrian refugees in Lebanon have been "forced to reduce spending on food and get by on one meal a day, and this has a negative effect on children’s growth", Abou Khaled said.
The percentage of those facing food insecurity rose from 23% to 34% in one year, she added. "We are working with the WFP and the American University of Beirut on the development of new food standards for the poorest families."
She noted that so far in 2016, $979.3 million has been injected into the country under the joint government-UN led Lebanon Crisis Response Plan (LCRP), which has helped prevent more people from falling below the poverty line.
"We co-ordinate with the Ministry of Social Affairs and more than 80 partners to set priorities and the budget we need to meet most [of their] needs and alleviate their poverty," she added.
In co-ordination with the Ministry of Education, healthy school meals are being provided to more than 10,000 Lebanese and Syrian public school students, WFP senior regional communications officer Abeer Etefa told Al-Mashareq.
Under this programme, she said, students "receive juice or milk and locally prepared light nutritious meals enhanced with vitamins and micronutrients".
This provides them with the energy they need to focus on their learning and motivates parents to send their children to school, she added.
"The programme helps alleviate the food crisis the refugees are facing in Lebanon, provides them with the nutrients necessary for growth and encourages them to attend school," Etefa said.
The programme also "helps about 700,000 of the neediest families of Syrian and Palestinian refugees and Lebanese [citizens] through the use of electronic food vouchers that enable them to buy their food at local markets", she said.
Since 2013, she said, the WFP food voucher programme has pumped more than $700 million into the Lebanese economy.
Syrian families face shortages
The Hadid family, displaced from Hama, Syria, is one of thousands of Syrian families in Lebanon who live in dire poverty.
Fatima Ammar Hadid, 32, now lives with her family of five in a small tent in a Bar Elias refugee camp in the Bekaa Valley.
They lost a home and a small shop that provided them with a good living in Syria, she said, and now lack the means to provide sufficient food to their children.
"We settled in the camp three years ago after moving around several Lebanese regions where my husband was able to find a job," she told Al-Mashareq.
"However, since we arrived here, he barely works two days a week as a labourer in the Bekaa plain, and what he earns is not enough to prepare two healthy meals to provide strength to my children’s frail bodies," she said.
"We rely primarily on the monthly food aid provided by the UNHCR and other organisations, but it is not enough to satisfy our hunger," Hadid said.
"My children crave many foods and sweets that we can only provide to them once a month, and we often are forced to borrow to buy necessities and it is months before we can pay it back," she said.
Clothing and other minimum requirements are almost non-existent, she said, as "we live in real poverty, and rather below the poverty line".