Lebanon’s median household income is just $122 per month, a new report from Human Rights Watch says. Ninety percent of households earn less than $377 per month and 99 percent earned less than $1,450 monthly.
These figures include not just income from work but also remittances and social assistance from the government or NGOs and other organizations, Lena Simet, senior economic justice researcher at Human Rights Watch and one of the report’s authors, told L’Orient Today. Average income from work is therefore even lower.
The report, based on a survey of 1,209 households conducted between November 2021 and January 2022, underlines the depths to which Lebanon has sunk amid a three-year economic crisis that the World Bank has called one of the worst globally since the mid-nineteenth century.
Comparisons over time are difficult due to the lack of high-quality data in Lebanon but the HRW report suggests incomes have dramatically fallen over the last three years. The World Bank’s only recent estimate of median income, an estimate for 2011, found a median monthly income of $465 (in 2022 dollars, i.e. after adjusting for inflation), compared to just $122 today.
Necessities at risk
Sixty-five percent of surveyed households said they were unable to pay for heating in the previous year. Over half said they could not afford adequate clothing, education tuition or school materials. Two in five households cannot afford medicine, medical care or health services.
For large numbers, even the most basic necessities of survival were at risk. Twenty percent of households ran out of food the previous month because of a lack of money.
“There’s a clear link between income poverty and cutting back on food. Which also means that it is something that the government should and could respond to and that’s why we think that the social protection piece is really key and where we find that the government has not done enough,” Simet told L’Orient Today.
So far, the government response has been minimal. It has yet to institute reforms that could put the country on the road to macroeconomic recovery and it has hardly been more responsive to short-term emergency needs.
A ‘huge gap’
The survey found that fewer than 5 percent of households reported receiving any kind of government assistance, despite the fact that, as of 2021, almost 74 percent of the resident population in the country had been pushed into income poverty, according to a 2021 UN report.
“You have this huge gap of the population that is entirely on their own and exposed to all these market dynamics, finding themselves in very difficult situations,” Simet said. “We … call on the national government to take urgent action to invest in a rights-based social protection system which we think is currently lacking.”
Bearing in mind that the majority of the population is in poverty, the government assistance that currently exists does not appear to be skewed towards the most vulnerable among them. Between 4 and 8 percent of households in every income decile except the top 10 percent reported receiving assistance. If it were targeted, one would expect higher rates of assistance at lower deciles.
Into the breach have stepped foreign and local NGOs, foreign governments and UN agencies, and local religious and political organizations. Simet said that based on interviews conducted as part of the survey, it would seem that many people have received some form of support from parties other than the government.
According to economist Sami Zoughaib of Lebanese think tank The Policy Institute, “While these interventions might have short-term palliative effects, they present deep political risks that potentially threaten the country’s social fabric” by reinforcing sectarian, political and geographic divisions.