Hope in Short Supply in Lebanon Today

Monday, June 15, 2020
Opinion by Jean AbiNader

There are many who have asked where to begin to find a way to help the people of Lebanon during these debilitating times. This blog is the first of several to address who is helping those in need in Lebanon and highlights ATFL’s partnership with Rotary International/Lebanon in its campaign to combat hunger.

The continued decline of the Lebanese economy is frightening. Whether talking about the currency collapse or the consequent skyrocketing costs in basic food and services, the Lebanese are in an awful situation. In a country where only 45% of the workforce is part of the formal economy, and therefore qualify for social security and some other services, even they are now unemployed, working for reduced wages, and unable to pay for their children’s education, healthcare, and essential services such as housing, power, water…the list goes on.

According to a recent Atlantic Council blog, “More than one-third of the population has become unemployed as of May, with more than 220,000 jobs lost in the private sector since October 2019. Workers engaged in informal employment, such as low skill jobs, are estimated to be 55% of the Lebanese workforce. They stand as the most vulnerable in society due to the lack of social protection guarantees in their employment and absence of an inclusive social protection system in Lebanon.

There is little hope of help from the government. As I pointed out in a previous blog, “There are currently 600,000 people unemployed in Lebanon, an estimated 35% unemployment rate and climbing. Since the government is broke, there are no large-scale interventions to prop up the economy; and even those that exist for the poor and small and medium-sized businesses are underfunded.”

There is little hope that negotiations between the Lebanese government and the IMF will make a difference before the end of this year, and although the IMF has insisted on the importance of crafting a social safety net as part of a recovery plan, Lebanon has few resources to allocate to humanitarian relief. This is where the role of humanitarian organizations, both local and international, has become an indispensable tool for reducing the pain of the more than 60% of Lebanese now living in poverty.

It’s critical to understand that these are not just the lower economic tier. The middle class has been decimated, especially those who rely on a regular paycheck to take care of their needs. Even those with bank accounts face severe restrictions on retrieving their own funds since the system lacks liquidity; there just isn’t enough money in the system. What money there is has been severely eroded by currency fluctuations that defy recent efforts to control the exchange rate.

The situation is even worse for the Syrian refugee population. The International Rescue Committee, a humanitarian nongovernmental organization, reported that 90% of Syrian refugees they surveyed in April said they are “in critical need of food.” This figure was only 32% in March, according to Al-Monitor.

As noted in the opening of this blog, ATFL is partnering with Rotary to provide assistance to the Lebanese Food Bank, supported by 28 geographically diversified Rotary Clubs in Lebanon. 100% of the funds collected are being distributed to the Country Fund of Rotary Association Lebanon and designated for the Lebanese Food Bank. To make this work for US citizens, donations to ATFL, a US 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization, are fully tax-deductible, and are fully earmarked for the Lebanese Food Bank.

These illustrations explain what is in the food boxes and how they are being distributed, in all areas of the country.

As you can see, to many of us of Lebanese descent, this looks like our kitchen pantry so we know people are getting needed food supplies, but for how long?

These are the everyday heroes of Rotary in Lebanon who are working to help their neighbors have enough to survive on.

If you know of a not-for-profit organization that has a US affiliate (for tax purposes) that is helping with this terrible situation in Lebanon, let us know at info@atfl.org and we may be able to include them in a future blog.

To help with the LET LEBANON LIVE campaign, you can donate here, or go to our website for more information: www.atfl.org.