Unicef says a third of Lebanon's children are skipping meals

More children than ever are going to bed hungry

Lebanon's economic crisis is having an acute effect on children, UN children's group Unicef said on Thursday, with a third of the country's children going hungry.

The report said more than 30 per cent of children "went to bed hungry and skipped meals" in April while 77 per cent of households lack the resources to secure their daily food needs. The latter figure rises to 99 per cent in the case of Syrian refugees, Unicef said.

“With no improvement in sight, more children than ever before are going to bed hungry in Lebanon. Children’s health, education and their very futures are affected as prices are skyrocketing and unemployment continues to increase,” said Yukie Mokuo, Unicef’s representative in Lebanon.

Mrs Mokuo said the crisis is forcing more families to resort to negative coping measures.

Such measures include “sending their children to work in often dangerous and hazardous conditions, marrying off their young daughters or selling their belongings”, Mrs Mokuo said.

One in 10 children has been sent to work while 15 per cent of families stopped their children’s education as a result of the crisis, according to the report, which surveyed 1,244 households by phone in April.

The deteriorating economic downturn, which the World Bank ranked among the world’s worst since mid-19th century, has eroded the purchasing power of local earners with the national currency losing over 90 per cent of its market value since late 2019.

Food prices have since risen steeply and medical bills are trending upwards as the central bank continues to ration its subsidies of imports of food, fuel and medication as foreign currency reserves dwindle.

Children as a result are being increasingly denied access to primary health care.

Almost a third of Lebanon’s children are not receiving the primary health care they need, Unicef said, while 76 per cent of households said they are affected by huge increases in the price of medicines.

“The World Bank has described what is happening in Lebanon as possibly one of the top three economic collapses seen since the mid-19th century. What the Unicef survey shows is that children are bearing the brunt of this escalating catastrophe,” Mrs Mokuo said.

The group called on local authorities to step up efforts to ensure and improve children’s access to education and primary health care.

In an attempt to reduce the effects of the crisis on the most vulnerable families, Lebanon’s parliament on Wednesday approved more than half a billion dollars in cash assistance to help more than 500,000 families make ends meet.

But it remains unclear where funding for the programme will come from, with the government exploring several options including tapping the IMF for funds. The IMF informed the Lebanese government this week that it was considering assigning $900 million to Lebanon in August as part of a proposal to allocate Special Drawing Rights to member states, to the tune of $650 billion.

The new package is aimed at complementing a $246 million social safety net programme that has yet to be disbursed by the World Bank pending negotiations with the government.

Mrs Mokuo said “determined, concerted action is critical to mitigate the suffering, particularly among the most vulnerable, who are trapped in a spiral of poverty”.

The deepening crisis, which has plunged more than half the country’s population into poverty, was compounded by the Covid outbreak and a huge explosion at Beirut port last August.

The explosion killed more than 200 people and destroyed thousands of properties across the capital, leaving Lebanon without a fully functioning Cabinet during a growing rift between the president and the prime minister-designate over the upcoming government’s make-up and reform agenda.

Unicef said it is expanding its programme with the support of the donor community to help more children and families.

“Children’s well-being and safeguard must be a top priority to ensure their rights are met under any circumstance. Lebanon cannot afford children to be nutritionally deprived, out of school, in poor health and at risk of abuse, violence and exploitation. Children are an investment, the ultimate investment, in a nation’s future,” Mrs Mokuo said.

Updated: July 1st 2021, 1:13 PM