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BEIRUT -- Lebanon's economic crisis, coupled with the coronavirus pandemic and the Beirut port blast, has stripped thousands of Lebanese citizens and Syrian refugee families of their most basic right -- access to food.
Their tragic situation is made worse by the loss of more than 90% of the Lebanese pound's purchasing power, and an increase of 404% in the price of food since the downward trend began.
As the government has failed to address the roots of the crisis, international organisations and donor countries have filled the void through humanitarian support programmes to provide families with food rations and periodic aid.
Since the beginning of the crisis, the US Agency for International Development (USAID) has boosted its humanitarian support to Lebanon, and substantially increased it in response to the coronavirus outbreak and the August 2020 port explosion in Beirut.
Between October 1, 2020, and September 30, 2021, the US government, through USAID's Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance, supported the World Food Programme (WFP) by providing emergency food assistance to approximately 400,000 vulnerable Lebanese.
This emergency food assistance included in-kind food purchased locally within Lebanon and throughout the region.
Many Lebanese families say they would not have survived without the food they receive from the WFP.
Marleine, the mother of three children under 11, said her husband lost his job one year ago and that their house in Mar Mikhael was severely damaged in the port explosion.
"Since the explosion, I have been receiving my food ration from the WFP, through Caritas," she said.
The family of Syrian refugee Youssef Abdullah also receives food from the WFP, through "a special red credit card", he said.
"Without this assistance, I could not provide for my wife and daughter. I buy what I want from a store that co-operates with the WFP," he said.
In-kind, monetary aid
According to the United Nations' Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA), 82% of the population in Lebanon lives in multidimensional poverty, which takes into account factors other than income, such as access to health, education and public utilities.
That rate has nearly doubled from 42% in 2019, to 82% in 2021, it said.
In addition to in-kind food aid, USAID is also working with the WFP to provide protracted emergency food assistance in the form of vouchers and cash transfers for food to 300,000 extremely vulnerable refugees from Syria and various other countries.
In the immediate weeks and months following the Beirut explosion, USAID also supported the WFP with emergency food assistance to nearly 78,000 people affected by the disaster. This assistance included food parcels and food vouchers.
Abdullah al-Wardat, the WFP's representative in Lebanon, said that because of inflation, food would be inaccessible to many families if not for this aid.
Thanks to the generous support from donors, "the WFP is currently assisting more than 1.1 million Syrian refugees and 600,000 Lebanese per month with cash assistance, food rations and other means", he said.
On November 11, during a meeting with Lebanese President Michel Aoun, WFP Executive Director David Beasley affirmed the programme's determination to continue providing assistance to Lebanon.
He said both monetary and in-kind aid will continue, and expressed hope for expanding the pool of recipients to 800,000 Lebanese individuals over the next two months.
Cash assistance, food rations
Rasha Abou Dargham, WFP spokesperson in Lebanon, told Al-Mashareq that generous donor support, including from the United States, is helping 1.7 million Lebanese families and Syrian refugees in Lebanon.
"The international support enables the programme to continue its humanitarian assistance which we provide in two ways: cash assistance, which allows the beneficiaries to buy the food they need, and rations of basic food items," she said.
Aid goes to the needy every month, she added.
In the immediate aftermath of the port explosion, the WFP distributed cash assistance to affected individuals for six months, Abou Dargham said.
"Given the circumstances in Lebanon and its deepening crisis, the more donor countries increase their support for the programme, the more we can diversify the aid and the more people could benefit from it," she said.
The United States is the single largest donor of humanitarian assistance in Lebanon. In fiscal year 2021, it provided more than $400 million in humanitarian assistance to Lebanon, including close to $100 million announced by President Biden in August 2021.
Between fiscal years 2012 and 2021, USAID provided more than $805 million in emergency food assistance in Lebanon, providing a critical lifeline for hundreds of thousands of food-insecure inhabitants of the country.