Lebanon unveils ration cards as crisis causes hunger

It hopes programme will support half a million families, but funding remains uncertain

Lebanon has announced details of a long-awaited ration card that it hopes will help up to half a million of its poorest families cope with the country's economic crisis.

Economy and Trade Minister Raoul Nehme said on Thursday that the card, providing $25 per person and up to $126 per family, would benefit those “that really need support”.

Registrations will be open from September 15 until October 31, with those applying for the card required to fill out an online form.

Mr Nehme said the card would be targeted at the country’s poorest and most vulnerable.

“Our goal is to exclude the affluent, so we will ask for information, including ID numbers, passports and banks accounts — we will verify all information,” he said.

Speaking at the launch, Ramzi Musharrafieh, minister of social affairs, said: “The card is not an electoral card."

Mr Musharrafieh said that the payments would be in dollars or at the market rate for Lira. Yet it remained unclear exactly how the card will be funded.

Mr Nehme said that an external auditor, approved by the World Bank, would be brought in to oversee the initiative.

Officials had said the funding would come from the World Bank. But Mr Musharrafieh later said that initial funding would come from central bank reserves, with the hope it may later be reimbursed.

A spokesman for the World Bank did not immediately respond for comment.

The plan has long been mooted as a replacement for blanket subsidies on essential goods. With subsidy cuts in recent months, the demand for some sort of safety net for the country’s poorest families has grown.

Families paying more than $3,500 in annual rent, employing a domestic worker or owning more than two cars registered within the last three years would be among those excluded from the programme.

In June, the Lebanese parliament approved the one-year $556m ration card scheme for half a million families. It was expected to pay out an average of $93 per family. But the law did not specify where the funding might come from.

Lebanon is in the grip of an economic crisis. A recent UN report said 78 per cent of the population is now living in poverty. Subsidy cuts have caused the cost of staples such as fuel and bread to jump to levels unaffordable for many.

Updated: September 9th 2021, 2:30 PM
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