Americans concerned about inflation can be thankful they don’t live in Lebanon.
Since 2019, the value of Lebanon’s currency has collapsed by nearly 90%, and food prices have quadrupled, but salaries have remained the same.
The country was further shaken in 2020 when a massive explosion of improperly stored ammonium nitrate in Beirut left 300,000 people homeless and thousands injured or dead.
Add political turmoil, the COVID-19 pandemic and decades of resource mismanagement, and the combination has caused poverty rates and humanitarian needs to skyrocket.
Aziza Samir Al Lahham, a 29-year-old mother living in Beirut, spends almost all her husband’s income on hospital visits, oxygen and medication to treat her 6-month-old son’s lung disease.
The family, who lives in a one-room house with a leaky roof, had funds for little else, including food, until they started receiving monthly food vouchers. Mennonite Central Committee’s Lebanese partner Popular Aid for Relief and Development, or PARD, distributes them.
“The quantity of food we’re eating increased, and there’s more variety in it,” said Al Lahham, expressing the relief of being able to feed her five children, all under 8 years old. “What does a mother want other than seeing her children eating and feeling happy?”
She is one of many people in Lebanon whose kitchen cupboards have emptied as economic hardships have devastated the country.
The vouchers enabled Al Lahham to buy things she previously could not, like chicken, milk and cheese — important sources of protein for her children. The food vouchers also have allowed her to save some money to pay for her son’s medical care.
When PARD’s staff surveyed Palestinian and Lebanese households in six areas of Lebanon, they discovered that most families reported eating only one meal a day, with children getting slightly more, said Mira Moussa, the humanitarian aid project coordinator at PARD.
Many families couldn’t afford meat or even fruits and vegetables.
“In each area you find stories of people who are really suffering,” she said.
Seeing the need, MCC and PARD applied for and received a grant worth $761,844 from the Lebanon Humanitarian Fund of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
Since October, PARD has been distributing monthly food vouchers, each worth about $19 per family member, to 900 households. Recipients also attended nutritional awareness sessions in the beginning of the program.
In addition, PARD provides locally purchased hygiene kits, infant care kits and elder care kits to 1,701 Lebanese citizens and 3,159 Palestinian refugees. (MCC and PARD help Syrian families through other programs.)
Lebanon hosts the largest per capita number of refugees globally, most recently from the continuing influx of Syrian refugees. They joined existing Palestinian refugees who found refuge there since the Palestinian-Israeli war in 1948 and subsequent conflicts.