Lebanon’s crisis stretches families’ coping ability to breaking point

Lebanon children
4 min read
02 July, 2023

Families in Lebanon are barely able to meet their most basic needs despite cutting down drastically on expenses according to a new survey by UNICEF.

A growing number of families are having to resort to sending their children – some as young as six years old – to work in a desperate effort to survive the socio-economic crisis engulfing the country.

The results of the survey paint a dramatic picture of the situation as the crisis continues to escalate for a fourth consecutive year, with devastating consequences for children.

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“The compounding crises facing the children of Lebanon are creating an unbearable situation – breaking their spirit, damaging their mental health and threatening to wipe out their hope for a better future,” said Edouard Beigbeder, UNICEF’s Representative in Lebanon.

The report, based on UNICEF’s latest rapid assessment of children’s lives, shows that almost 9 in 10 households do not have enough money to buy essentials, forcing them to resort to extreme measures to cope with the crisis.

Meanwhile, fifteen percent of households have stopped their children’s education, up from 10 percent a year ago, and 52 percent have reduced spending on education, compared to 38 percent a year ago.

More than one in 10 families have been forced to send children out to work as a way of coping, with this figure rising to more than 1 in 4 families among Syrian children.

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Despite these desperate coping measures, many families cannot afford the quantity and variety of food they require, and additionally cannot afford the expenses involved in getting health treatment.

Significantly, the crisis is also driving up period poverty, with just over half of respondents saying that women and girls in the household do not have enough female hygiene items, such as sanitary pads, and almost all of them saying they are now too expensive.

Many caregivers admit the bleak situation causes them to suffer persistent stress, resulting in feelings of anger towards their children.

Six in 10 felt they wanted to shout at their children and 2 in 10 felt they wanted to hit them in the previous two weeks when the survey was taken.

The rising tensions, coupled with the deprivations, are taking a severe toll on children’s mental health. Almost 7 in 10 caregivers said their children seemed anxious, nervous or worried, and almost half said their children were very sad or feeling depressed every week.

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Gaps in the national social protection system and limited access to essential services, particularly education and health make it even more difficult for families to cope with the crisis.

“Increasing investment in essential services for children – critical education, health and social protection will help mitigate the impact of the crisis, ensure the well-being and survival of future generations and contribute to economic recovery,” said Beigbeder.

Late last month, the International Monetary Fund warned in a report that Lebanon's failure to implement reforms could have "irreversible" consequences for the crisis-hit country and risks jeopardising economic and social stability.

Lebanon has been mired since 2019 in an economic collapse that has seen the local currency lose around 98 percent of its value against the dollar and impoverished most of the population.

In April 2022, Lebanon and the IMF reached a conditional agreement on a $3-billion-dollar loan needed to save the economy, but officials have still yet to enact the substantial changes required to kickstart the 46-month financing programme.

"The continuation of the status quo presents the largest risk to Lebanon's economic and social stability, taking the country down an unpredictable road," the IMF said in the report. 

"Without reforms, the economy will remain depressed with irreversible consequences for the country," it said.

The IMF projected that if the situation remains unchanged the public gross debt in Lebanon, which defaulted on its foreign debt for the first time in 2020, could reach 547.5 percent of gross domestic product by 2027.

Inflation "has accelerated recently reaching 190 percent year-on-year in February 2023, with food prices increasing by 261 percent," while unemployment "increased sharply", it said.

"The fiscal deficit widened to an estimated five percent of GDP in 2022," it added, while the central bank's foreign currency reserves "declined to about $10 billion, compared to $36 billion at its peak in 2017".