Crisis in Southern Lebanon

The current conflict in southern Lebanon is the latest in the country’s long list of crises. It is further eroding the weak economy, undermining food security and increasing the strain on basic health services. The worsening socioeconomic situation is sending more people into poverty, fuelling a growing need for humanitarian assistance. However, the geopolitical nature of the conflict and cuts in humanitarian funding from the UN are making it harder to meet people’s basic needs. The Lebanon Humanitarian INGO Forum recently published an urgent plea for the cessation of hostilities in Southern Lebanon, as these are exacerbating the country’s growing humanitarian needs. Dorcas is seeking what role it should play in this rapidly developing and sensitive situation.

Current situation in Southern Lebanon

Over 90,000 people have been displaced so far from southern Lebanon (mostly women and children), some 60,000 remain in the conflict zone, and more than 50 civilians have been killed. Medical facilities have been hit, and damage to water infrastructure has affected water supplies to over 100,000 residents in the South and Nabatieh governorates. Many schools have closed and so 20,000 children cannot continue their education. And almost 2,000 hectares of farmland have been destroyed by fires as a result of shelling, resulting in a loss of income for farmers and further harm to food supplies.

Impact on the work of Dorcas

Dorcas continues its long-established programmes to support Lebanese, Palestinian, Syrian, and migrant worker populations with psychosocial and legal support, school meals and educational support for children, and support to improve income stability. The conflict in Southern Lebanon has not yet impacted these programmes directly but that could change if rising humanitarian needs in the country call for different priorities to be set. Then Dorcas needs additional funding to expand its food security and livelihoods programmes. However, so far, and at the request of the Lebanese authorities, Dorcas has responded to the needs of displaced people from Southern Lebanon by providing food, blankets and mattresses. Dorcas is well-equipped to scale up such specific efforts should the need arise.

Growing and changing humanitarian challenges

The food insecurity crisis in Lebanon is growing. According to an IPC analysis, at least 21 per cent of the population will experience high food insecurity from April to September 2024, increasing the need for food assistance. Unemployment continues to rise, and over 60 per cent of people who have jobs work in the informal economy, where job security is low. Therefore, the need for cash assistance and livelihood support is set to grow. The healthcare situation in Lebanon is dire. Government spending on healthcare has decreased significantly, and the Lebanese pound’s devaluation has rendered the allocated funds almost worthless. Medicines are in short supply and their costs are soaring. Therefore, trying to meet the need for free or low-cost medicines for an increasingly impoverished population with a rising number of patients is an immense challenge.

These humanitarian challenges on the ground are compounded by actual and potential funding cuts. For example, the World Food Program reduced cash assistance to Syrian refugees by 30 per cent and discontinued in-kind food assistance to 33 per cent of assisted Lebanese households. The situation for the estimated 200,000-250,000 Palestinian refugees in Lebanon – most of whom are there as a result of previous conflicts – is particularly precarious. If current UN programmes in education, healthcare, and social safety net assistance stop, a huge humanitarian gap will arise that will be hard to fill. Although INGOs could step into such a gap, the process of transferring the entire responsibility for the Palestinian population across many different organisations would take time and be detrimental to the well-being of Palestinian refugees who rely on these services. Furthermore, the burden of these responsibilities could also have a negative impact on the existing programmes of the organisations concerned.

Dorcas role in the coming months

Dorcas will carefully monitor this funding situation so that in consultation with other INGOs and the Lebanese authorities, it can take appropriate action should the need arise. However, for now, our focus is prioritising food security for the most vulnerable.

05 April 2024

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