Economy

Lebanese charities step up to provide food, medicine, care amid crisis

By Nohad Topalian

A volunteer serves food to needy children at a kitchen set up by charity groups in Sidon, Lebanon, December 7, 2019. [Mahmoud Zayyat/AFP]

A volunteer serves food to needy children at a kitchen set up by charity groups in Sidon, Lebanon, December 7, 2019. [Mahmoud Zayyat/AFP]

BEIRUT -- Lebanon's ongoing economic crisis continues to deepen the population's need for basic necessities such as food, medicine and medical care.

With the Lebanese pound in free fall, salaries have lost more than 90% of their purchasing power. Meanwhile, food prices are rising on an almost daily basis, based on the exchange rate of the US dollar in the informal market.

The cost of medicine, medical care and hospitalisation also has risen, as doctors raised their examination fees and hospitals increased their charges after the government reduced its subsidies.

All of this is taking place amid the failure of the state to address the roots of the crisis and to develop an emergency plan to support the population, among whom the poverty rate has risen to more than 74%, according to international studies.

Syrian refugee children take part in activities organised by the non-profit Beyond organisation in Saadnayel on July 16, 2016. [Hassan Jarrah/AFP]

Syrian refugee children take part in activities organised by the non-profit Beyond organisation in Saadnayel on July 16, 2016. [Hassan Jarrah/AFP]

A Lebanese volunteer of the 'We Are By Your Side' initiative handles boxes of Metformin diabetes medications in Mazraat el-Dahr, Mount Lebanon, on July 12. The medications are obtained from nationals arriving from abroad and stored to be distributed to those who need them free of charge. [Joseph Eid/AFP]

A Lebanese volunteer of the 'We Are By Your Side' initiative handles boxes of Metformin diabetes medications in Mazraat el-Dahr, Mount Lebanon, on July 12. The medications are obtained from nationals arriving from abroad and stored to be distributed to those who need them free of charge. [Joseph Eid/AFP]

To make matters worse, some of the aid that international organisations have allocated to the general population is being commandeered by the Iran-backed Hizbullah, to appease its own base.

Charities and local organisations have stepped into the breach, providing much-needed support to both Lebanese citizens and Syrian refugees.

Among them is the Barbara Nassar Association for Cancer Patient Support, which Hani Nassar established after his wife (now deceased) was diagnosed with the disease.

Nassar told Al-Mashareq the association "is working intensively to provide medicine to cancer patients after the lifting of the subsidy on expensive immunotherapy drugs".

"We also advocate for patients through our activism with the Ministry of Health, the government and pharmaceutical companies," he said.

"Lebanon records 12,000 cases of cancer annually, and we follow up on more than 2,000 cases using whatever financial support is available to us, amid a significant shortage of medicines," Nassar said.

The Sanabel el-Nour Association is the largest and oldest of the associations active in Tripoli, which has the highest poverty rate in Lebanon, association president Rida Sayadi said.

According to a new study, 20% of Tripoli's families go to sleep hungry.

The association "is currently distributing one month worth of food rations to about 18,000 families in various districts of Tripoli", she said, noting that this is a sharp increase from the 4,000 families receiving aid before the current crisis.

Sanabel al-Nour "is trying to meet the needs of the neediest families, and we expect the number of families that will need assistance to increase".

Sayadi said the economic collapse "revealed the depth of the crisis faced by the Lebanese in general and the people of Tripoli in particular".

Especially alarming, she noted, is the growing poverty among a group of people who were once considered part of the middle class -- many of whom work in the public sector and make less than 1.5 million LBP per month.

Poverty in Tripoli has also driven some of the youth into the ranks of the "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS).

Variety of organisations, aid

Local organisations, associations and individual initiatives across the country are providing assistance to the poor and needy families, including Syrian refugees, through a variety of aid programmes.

The Caritas Association provides services to Lebanese citizens and Syrian and Iraqi refugees through centres located throughout Lebanon.

The association provides food aid, educational, social and development services, and its activities include a hospital health programme to help with hospital costs for those undergoing surgery.

Dar al-Fatwa's Relief and Humanitarian Aid Organisation provides continual relief aid to the needy.

It distributes donations to displaced Lebanese as well as Palestinian and Syrian refugees in Beirut, the south, the Bekaa Valley and the north.

Ajialouna organisation offers health, hospital, nutritional and other programmes in Beirut, Tripoli and the Bekaa Valley.

Medonations is an individual initiative launched to donate medicine.

It provides free medicines to patients throughout Lebanon and free medical care and is seeking to open a free clinic to provide medical examinations to patients.

Lebanon of Tomorrow is an association that provides financial, economic and social support. On the healthcare front, the association provides medicines and helps with the cost of general medical examinations and some hospital surgeries.

It distributes food rations and hot meals prepared by its kitchen to needy families, homes for the elderly, and child care associations throughout Lebanon.

Following the Beirut port explosion of August 2020, the association has placed special emphasis on the elderly, children and students and provides them with school, university, food and hospitalisation support.

The Shabebik Association issued a health card for a token fee that the holder can use towards medical tests and examinations and hospital stays, and provides food and hygiene rations, clothes and medicines.

It also implements a programme to empower women by teaching them handicrafts and enabling them to sell the products they produce under the "Made in Lebanon" label.

Also a number of international organisations, including the World Food Programme (WFP), UN children’s fund (UNICEF), UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the Lebanon Cash Consortium (LCC), work together to supply aid via various means, including the debit card known as the "red card" to distribute aid to refugees in Lebanon. For more information about the red card and aid in general, visit the UN-Lebanon refugee portal website here.

Food, medicine, education

In the south, the Ahlouna Association in Sidon is improving the quality of life of families by empowering women and developing their productive capacities.

It provides healthcare, social and educational care and food to more than 1,900 of the neediest Lebanese and Syrian families, including elderly people, who receive home care, health follow-ups and medicines.

The association supports 1,300 orphans with food, medical care, education and psychological support and contributes to the cost of registration and transportation for a number of students.

In the Bekaa Valley, active organisations and associations include Beyond, which has been working since the outbreak of the Syrian conflict to provide health and education support to Syrian refugees in Bekaa Valley camps.

More recently, it has been providing food rations to refugees and to the poorest Lebanese families.

The Koloob Min Noor Association (Hearts of Light), headquartered in Kamed al-Lawz in the western Bekaa Valley, supports and cares for those with special needs, including the blind.

It provides education in a specialised school, and provides its students and their families with food and health assistance.

In the north, numerous local charitable and religious associations and organisations are working in the field of relief and providing food aid, medical and educational services.

Active associations in the north include Nashitoun Association (Activists).

Nashitoun provides food rations to thousands of needy families, registers and teaches university students, organises periodic education sessions for homeless children, and organises recreational activities for children.

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