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Lebanon: Inadequate government response to COVID-19 creates hunger risks, says HRW

April 8, 2020 at 12:05 pm

A man searching for food in Lebanon on 11 November 2019 [IBRAHIM CHALHOUB/AFP/Getty Images]

A report from the Human Rights Watch (HRW) in Lebanon has blamed gaps in the country’s social protection system for leaving millions of residents at risk of hunger during the coronavirus-related lockdown.

The report says measures to combat the spread of the coronavirus, which have been in place since 15 March, have exacerbated the effect of the current economic and financial crisis on low-income families.

Senior researcher on poverty and inequality at HRW Lena Simet said: “The lockdown to slow the spread of COVID-19 has compounded the poverty and economic hardship rampant in Lebanon before the virus arrived.”

Adding that, “many people who had an income have lost it, and if the government does not step in, more than half the population may not be able to afford food and basic necessities.”

On 1 April, the cabinet announced plans to distribute 400,000 Lebanese Lira ($150), to the poorest families, but has offered limited details on the plan.

The government had a week earlier pledged approximately $28 million for nutrition and sanitary assistance, again, without details.

READ: UNICEF delivers supplies to Lebanon’s coronavirus response

Despite these pledges, HRW reported that, according to activists, no aid has materialised. Adding that the lack of a timely social assistance response has left the most vulnerable unable to afford basic necessities.

For many, in recent weeks, frustration has bubbled over. A taxi driver set his car on fire on 24 March when he received a fine from security forces for flouting the lockdown orders.

street vendor in Tripoli threw his produce on the streets after police personnel shuttered his business, and drivers of passenger vans blocked the north-south, Tripoli-Beirut highway, at least two times in mid-March, after the government barred them from operating.

READ: Lebanon’s airline defends decision to charge returnees for flights

In November 2019, before the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, the World Bank estimated that 45 per cent of Lebanon’s population lived below the poverty line, up from 33 per cent prior to September, with that figure set to rise to 50 per cent in 2020.

“Lebanon’s embattled population is on the edge… the government needs quickly to develop an assistance program that protects people’s rights and gives them access to the resources they need to survive this crisis,” Simet said.