UN Warns Lebanese Children Are Going Hungry Amid Economic Meltdown

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Syrian refugee children play in Akkar, Lebanon, last month.
Syrian refugee children play in Akkar, Lebanon, last month.Credit: Reuters / Walid Saleh

Lebanon’s economic crisis – labeled one of the worst financial meltdowns in modern history by the World Bank – has left many children without access to food, medical care or education, the United Nations said Tuesday.

The UN children's agency report came as the Lebanese pound traded at 23,500 to the dollar – close to lows briefly reached in the summer – further eroding the purchasing power of families in the small nation. Nearly three-quarters of Lebanon's 6 million residents, including a million Syrian refugees, now live in poverty, according to the UN.

“Unless we act now, every child’s future in Lebanon is at stake,” said UNICEF’s representative in Lebanon, Yukie Mokuo.

Lebanon’s two-year economic meltdown is rooted in decades of corruption and mismanagement, and has resulted in tens of thousands losing their jobs since October 2019 while the pound has lost more than 90 percent of its value.

The situation has been made worse by the coronavirus pandemic and the massive Beirut port explosion in August last year that killed 216 people, including six children, and injured more than 6,000, including about 1,000 children.

“Lebanon is very sadly in free fall and it's quickly hitting rock bottom,” Mokuo said at a news conference. “This is a crisis of children that threatens to leave almost every child in the country very vulnerable and very much in need.”

New figures released by UNICEF show a dramatic deterioration in living conditions over the past six months, with more than half of families having at least one child who skipped a meal in September. That compares to about 37 percent in April.

The agency added that more than 30 percent of surveyed families reported cuts in education expenses, compared with 26 percent in April.

Almost 34 percent of children who required primary health care did not receive it, up from 28 percent in April.

The report is based on child-focused assessments conducted by UNICEF in April and again in October among the same families.

“The staggering magnitude of the crisis must be a wake-up call. Urgent action is needed to ensure no child goes hungry, becomes sick or has to work instead of receiving an education,” Mokuo said.

UNICEF said as families face “skyrocketing inflation” and increasing poverty, 40 percent have had to sell household items, up from 33 percent. Seven in 10 had to buy food on credit or borrow money to afford food, compared to six in 10 in April.

The situation worsened this month after the government began reducing subsidies for certain medications, including for high blood pressure and cholesterol.

“The government needs to take swift action to safeguard children’s future,” Mokuo said. She said this requires implementing a major expansion of social protection measures, ensuring access to quality education for every child and strengthening primary health care and child protection services.

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