CARE International Documentary Premiere titled “Faces of Poverty”

Opening Remarks by the UN Deputy Special Coordinator, Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Lebanon

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Distinguished participants,

Thank you very much for the invitation and mostly for your steady commitment to the humanitarian aid to the people of Lebanon.

Five different ‘faces of poverty’ will be shown shortly in a documentary. They dream of a shelter, of a mobile phone, of nice clothes, a salary that pays the rent, and internet that allows learning. Their ‘dreams’ are simple, yet they are not able to fulfill them! And this is a small sample, yet representative of thousands of Lebanese currently falling into multiple facets of poverty… a grim reflection of the current deteriorating humanitarian situation in Lebanon.

After a full year of hardships, in the middle of a global pandemic, a steady stream of socio-economic and political crises, and the tragic Beirut port explosions that caused unspeakable suffering, Lebanon has fallen off the high middle-income countries and people are paying a hefty price of these calamities.

Over half the Lebanese people are now living in poverty, many have lost their jobs and those who still have jobs found their salaries lost a lot of their value. The already vulnerable groups, both among refugee and Lebanese communities, are being pushed further into poverty, struggling to meet their basic needs, and sometimes resorting to negative coping mechanisms. All of them, with no exception, lost more than 85% of their purchasing power, with food inflation recording a staggering 395 per cent. Unemployment dramatically increased, and a sizable number of Lebanese are now finding themselves unable to afford basic necessities like food, electricity, water, internet, fuel and education. They desperately need direct humanitarian assistance!

Towards the end of 2020, 19% of Lebanese nationals had reported the loss of their main sources of income, and a joint WFP and WB analysis covering the period of September-October 2020 shows that 22% of households in Lebanon consumed inadequate diets, up from 19% in July and August 2020. This is not to mention that the revised food survival and minimum expenditure basket (SMEB) recorded a 21% increase between March and April 2021.

Acute malnutrition rates among children aged 6 months to 5 years was reported throughout the past two years (2019-2020), with infant and young child feeding practices falling short of the global standard.  Recent studies also show that over 85% of assessed families confirmed adopting negative coping mechanisms, including reduction in the number of daily meals and decreased (to no) consumption of fresh fruits, vegetables and meat.

Regrettably, these figures will worsen after the removal of subsidies on basic imports, which will further devaluate the Lebanese Pound and significantly increase the price of basic commodities to an estimate of 155% to as high as 425%.

The public health system had its fair share of losses, as it is stretched beyond its limit from the double impact of the economic crisis and the COVID19 outbreak. People are increasingly unable to access and afford healthcare; they can’t find medicines and medical supplies on which their life depends. Medical doctors are massively leaving the country in search of better remunerating opportunities, leaving behind thousands of people in desperate need of medical help. Mental health is particularly worrying, with an increase of 52% in calls to the EMBRACE (suicidal watch) hotline. And the list goes on…

Education in Lebanon was not spared from the detrimental effects of these subsequent crises. According to UNICEF, at least 1.2 million children across Lebanon (including Lebanese, Syrian and Palestinian children), have had their education disrupted for more than a year, with many having last attended school in person in October 2019. Teachers’ salaries lost an estimated 90% of their value and families find themselves unable to cover the cost of their children’s education, and incapable to afford technology or adequate internet access for online education. This is upsetting and worrying as it’s ushering to lower literacy and numeracy rates among children of Lebanon compared to their peers in the rest of the Middle East region.

With no foreseeable end in sight to the multi-faceted crisis in Lebanon, the Lebanese people feel hopeless, frustrated, uncertain and insecure... This stands in stark contrast with their aspirations forcefully expressed in October 2019 popular protests, whereby Lebanese, including women and youth, demanded a more inclusive, accountable and just Lebanon, which in their eyes remains elusive.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The urgency of addressing poverty in all its forms heightens by the day. And we have been taking every step to help address this unfortunate situation.

On the very night of the Beirut explosions, the UN with YOU- our long-standing partners- we sprung into immediate action and responded to the immediate needs of 240,000 people out of the 300,000 directly impacted by the blast. With YOU, we provided a wide range of critical and life-saving services directly to the affected population. And with YOU, we saved thousands of lives.

Through your support and that of other partnering NGO, we ensured the ongoing work and repair of primary health care centers affected by the blast… we provided thousands of food parcels and hot meals as well as emergency cash grants for people at increased risk of immediate harm, abuse or exploitation and provided mental health support to those impacted by the disaster including 80,000 children who were seriously traumatized. The list goes on if I also list the valuable in-kind support of NGOs who were super active on the ground, lending helping hands to the people and attending to urgent requests.

Thanks to you and to your broad field knowledge and strong community ties, as well as the support and devotion of other partners, we were able to provide life-saving assistance in no time. Our partnership is more important than ever.

Now that the emergency response has ended, we are shifting our priorities and approach to address new needs, new gaps and new urgencies in the rapidly evolving situation in lebanon.

We will shortly launch a new Appeal to meet the growing needs of people in the food and healthcare sectors, but with a greater focus on the most vulnerable Lebanese as well as the migrants and domestic workers for whom there is currently little support available. It is those most vulnerable who fall through the cracks, and these are exactly the people that we must target. But for this, we need a quantum leap in funding!

We are also in full transition towards a people-centered recovery effort under the Reform, Recovery and Reconstruction Framework (3RF) that we developed jointly with the European Union and the World Bank Group. This promising recovery roadmap is about meeting people’s critical needs, restoring their livelihoods, safeguarding their basic rights and giving them a voice and a place in policy making. It proposes a new way of working, with YOU the civil society – along with the government, the private sector and international partners - acting as full and equal partner in the oversight and accountability of the 3RF implementation process.

However, we are still off track in terms of ensuring Lebanon’s recovery. And the urgency of addressing poverty and other imminent priorities, demands that together we pick up the pace. The free fall of the country is generating every day new humanitarian needs and we need your full and unconditional support to address them.

Distinguished participants,

As we step into this promising path of recovery, we cannot go back to the failed systems and frameworks that aggravated the fragility of this country and highlighted the staggering weaknesses and inequalities that are being exploited. We must build forward better and wiser!

Undoubtedly, the recovery of Lebanon lies in the hands of the Lebanese Government and depends heavily on its political will and commitment to implement significant reforms as soon as possible. I am talking about macro-political and economic reforms that will help people return to jobs and businesses that have been destroyed by the Beirut explosions and the pre-existing deep recession. But I’m also referring to substantial sector reforms - for social protection, basic services and infrastructure, governance and accountability and the environment – which constitute pre-conditions to delivering on a smooth, swift and effective recovery.

On several instances, I have emphasized the imperative for action to implement much-needed reforms, to hold parliamentary elections on time and put an end to this utter lack of action and policy neglect. This is the only country’s salvation to emerge from its multi-layered crises, to regain people’s trust in the Government, and to ensure that Lebanon will not relapse into another crisis.

As we wait for the much-needed reforms to take place, we must remain steadfast in our commitment to prevent the fall of the country into the abyss. We must eradicate poverty and other injustices while also addressing other important developmental priorities that the country is in dire need. This is our shared responsibility!

Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is undeniable that the longer-term effects of the socio-economic fallout, the devastating effects of the Beirut port explosions and the COVID19 pandemic, will shape our work for months and years to come.

I am heartened by your strong support for the people of Lebanon and count on your continued efforts and that of your organizations to advance it on the ground despite the structural obstacles we all know.

Today, I am eager to hear directly from you on how we can scale up our joint efforts to pull people out of poverty and restore their hopes in a country that gave so much to the prosperity, culture and history of the entire region. Together, let’s rise to the challenge of delivering to the positive change we all want in Lebanon!

I look forward to watching the documentary with you and to engaging in an insightful discussion with all.

Thank you.


Speech by
Najat Rochdi
Deputy Special Coordinator, Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator
Najat Rochdi
UN entities involved in this initiative
United Nations Resident Coordinator Office