Unicef official warns of impacts of Lebanon’s crises on children

Some families have been even marrying off their young daughters to reduce economic burden.

Beirut: Lebanon’s multifaceted crises are having severe impacts on children which accounts for about one-third of the total population, warned a senior Unicef official.

“The country’s economic collapse, political instability and the COVID-19 pandemic have combined to leave many children in a dire situation by affecting just about every aspect of their lives such as schooling, physical and mental health, and access to a proper and sufficient nutrition,” Ettie Higgins, the Unicef Deputy Representative in Lebanon, told Xinhua news agency in an exclusive interview.

Addressing the severe effects of the crisis on children, Higgins cited the Child-Focused Rapid Assessment (CFRA) released in April 2021 by Uniced stating that 9 per cent of families sent their child to work, 15 per cent stopped their children’s education and 60 per cent had to buy food on credit or borrow money.

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Some families have been even marrying off their young daughters to reduce economic burden.

Higgins continued that 40 per cent of children are from families where no one has work, and 77 per cent of children are from families that do not receive any social assistance.

Even worse, over 30 per cent of surveyed families said that their children went to bed hungry and skipped meals in March 2021.

Decades of corruption and mismanagement turned Lebanon into a bankrupt state with a public debt hovering over $95 billion.

Banks have become paralyzed and savers were deprived from accessing their deposits.

The currency has collapsed, with food prices soaring by 400 per cent in December 2020 and annual inflation hitting a record high of almost 85 per cent.

Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of citizens lost their jobs due to the outbreak of COVID-19 and the Beirut port explosions.

A recent study by the UN Economic and social commission for western asia (ESCWA) reported that poverty affects 74 per cent of the total population in Lebanon.

“As the crisis shows no signs of easing, this is particularly worrying for the future of the 2.1 million children living in Lebanon, 64 per cent of whom need support,” Higgins said.

Furthermore, the fuel crisis is affecting all essential services including water and sanitation, leaving hospitals and health centres without access to safe water due to electricity shortages, while exposing more than 4 million people across Lebanon, predominantly vulnerable children and families, to the risks of facing critical water shortages or being completely cut off from safe water supply in the coming days.

Throughout the sad events of Lebanon over the past two years, Unicef has been there to lend a hand to children and their families.

Higgins told Xinhua that Unicef has been working with partners and donors to secure water services for up to 4 million people which costs $40 million per year.

She added that the agency has supported the deployment of the COVID-19 vaccine through COVAX while providing more than 2,400 frontline healthcare workers with personal protective equipment (PPE) and equipping more than 200 health care facilities with infection prevention and control (IPC) and PPE materials.

Moreover, 70,000 vulnerable children affected by the economic crisis across the country received a one-off cash grant in 2020, according to Higgins who added that 5,000 vulnerable children are receiving monthly social assistance, as part of an integrated service package.

Higgins noted that Unicef supports children’s access to education by ensuring a safe school reopening for in-person learning through the refurbishment and replacement of damaged furniture and laboratory equipment for 90 public schools affected by the Beirut port explosions in addition to completing the rehabilitation of 42 educational institutions.

As for the response to the Beirut port explosions, it included psychosocial support, distribution of critical humanitarian supplies, and Unicef continues to support youth engaged in rehabilitation work through a community-based response that involves cash-for-work, Higgins explained.

She added that Unicef has also scaled up efforts to address malnutrition by providing more than 45,700 children under 5 with nutrition supplements.

Higgins insisted that the agency monitors funds usage very carefully at every level to prevent the risk of corruption or diversion of aid.

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