BEIRUT — In June 2021, Parliament approved a $556 million dollar ration card program to assist the most vulnerable families as the government lifted subsidies on essential products like fuel and medicine.
However, the program — which was supposed to be funded by the World Bank — is yet to be implemented, partially because there is no secure funding source.
Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of people who rushed to register for the program have been left with no cash assistance as the country struggles with an unprecedented, three years long economic crisis.
Mohamad Hussein Ibrahim, a father of three children, told L’Orient Today that although he is receiving $25 per child per month from the state’s Emergency Social Safety Net program, “it is still not enough.”
The Emergency Social Safety Net program (ESSN) is another World Bank-funded loan under which tens of thousands of families have benefited. However, even ESSN recipients are struggling amid the crisis.
Without a job, Ibrahim said he is forced to rely only on the milk of his lamb to feed his family.
“At one point, I was collecting plastic cans and selling them just to get a bit of income,” he said
Before the government subsidies, Ibrahim said he had to sell one of his four lambs to stockpile for his daughters’ medicine before they become too prohibitively priced.
“We are doing all efforts possible to speed up implementation and ensure the ESSN reaches all its target beneficiaries of 150,000 households,” a World Bank spokesperson told L’Orient Today on Friday.
“The World Bank reiterates its commitment to helping the poor in Lebanon reeling under the impact of the direct economic and financial crisis,” the spokesperson added.
The ration card program, if implemented, could provide an additional $126 dollars per month to families in need.
Registration for ESSN and the ration card programs is processed by the same platform, which chooses who qualifies for which program. Since the launch of the platform in December 2021, 582,825 people have registered, according to the Social Affairs Ministry
Caretaker Social Affairs Minister Hector Hajjar said in March that the World Bank demanded three conditions before agreeing to fund a ration card program. These demands included: a “serious and transparent” application process, payment to already-registered families and the Lebanese government’s contribution to the program’s funding.
The World Bank's regional director Saroj Kumar Jha had told L’Orient Today in December that Lebanon submitted a formal request to fund the ration card and that “[the World Bank] is ready to consider the request.”
“It is really important that the program is implemented in a manner that helps rebuild the trust” between Lebanese people and public institutions, Jha added.
A spokesperson for the Social Affairs Ministry told L’Orient Today last Friday that “everything is ready” except the funding.
The spokesperson said they were told by the World Bank that it did not fund the program because they wanted the government to “reach a deal with the International Monetary Fund or to create a full economic rescue plan, among other things.” Lebanon’s government has made no such deal.
In April, Lebanon signed a staff-level agreement with the IMF to receive $3 billion in cash assistance, predicated on structural reforms that have yet to be implemented.
In the meantime, many families struggling to survive amid the economic crisis are in need of food and medicine.
“The people of Lebanon deserve a social protection system that they can rely on when they need it … throughout their lives,” said a March 2021 UNICEF report.
“As larger segments of the Lebanese society face increasing risk of income insecurity due to the multiple overlapping crises and in the context of impending phasing-out of universal price subsidies, strengthening social protection guarantees for all should be at the core of any reform effort and a prime policy priority.”
In the meantime, people like Mohamad al-Afshal, a handicapped father of seven, are forced to live off the income of one of his children, and with some added help from the community.
“I have a cream that costs me LL2 million a month and my wife has cancer. We used to get her medicine from the Health Ministry, but they were not consistent and it’s been more than three months since we’ve gotten any medication from them,” Afshal said.
According to an August UNICEF report, 84 percent of households do not have enough money to cover necessities, due to “constant inflation and increasing prices of basic goods, coupled with high unemployment rates.”
“Without the help of my kids, my landlord — who stopped taking rent because he understands my situation — and the Mokhtar of my village, I wouldn’t have been able to survive,” Afshal said.