“Over the past two years, the distance between us and society’s other urban poor has grown"
Lebanon’s economic crisis is creating a new class of hyper-marginalised. At extreme risk of being left behind, they continue to struggle for survival. In many cases, children are impacted the hardest.
Lebanon’s economic crisis is creating a new class of hyper-marginalised, those excluded from mainstream social, economic, educational, and cultural life and witnessing dwindling prospects of retaining contact with their community. At the extreme risk of being left behind, they continue to struggle for survival. In many cases, children are impacted the hardest.
“This year has been the most challenging in my life,” says mother-of-six Ajaib, before adding, “and I know a thing or two about the challenges life can throw in your face.”
A refugee from the conflict in her native Syria, Ajaib and her family have been living in the southern Lebanon city of Tyr for eight years. She suffered injuries resulting from a bomb explosion, and her husband remains traumatised by his war experiences. Today, he spends his time scouring local streets for scrap metal and plastic and regularly earns as little as the equivalent of a dollar a day. Many days he earns nothing at all.
We first met Ajaib in March 2021. At the time, she worked as a casual labourer in the fields that edge Tyr’s western limits. “I earn LBP15,000 a day”, she told us, adding, “it’s enough for one person, but I have to feed my family on this.”
Now, in November 2021, it’s been three months since she worked, and the baby she was expecting last time we met now lies swaddled in the corner of her home’s single room. Swiftly diagnosed with a heart condition, for Ajaib, any treatment is ruled out based on cost. “We have to decide on our priorities,” she insists, matter-of-factly.
Defining priorities has become increasingly difficult during 2021. With almost no income and none of it guaranteed, Ajaib and her family form part of the 91% of refugee households now falling below the extreme poverty line. In 2019, this figure stood at 73%.*
They’re hungry but not starving. However, Ajaib confides in how her children have become accustomed to missing meals and how she will often go from one day to the next without eating.
Amongst her community, 71% of households are now eating a lesser amount, and 9% of female head of households admit to missing meals to allow their children to eat.*
She’s more concerned about her older children’s health.
“They’re getting sick far more regularly than they used to,” she notes. With no mains water supply and poor sanitation, the question of whether to purchase enough water to wash with, buy water to drink, or use the money for food, is one with no ideal answer.
Although Ajaib’s children are still young, she talks of neighbours who send their children – some as young as seven - out to work in the hope of boosting the family income. Already her children have dropped out of school, making the likelihood of their choosing to spend their days working when an opportunity arises.
"The distance between us and society’s other urban poor has grown. I don’t recognise my life any longer”
Hawking bottles of water and packs of tissues is seen as the easiest route to street trading. For Ajaib, the risks are high. “I’ve heard many tales of theft and violence against children on the streets around here,” she says before adding that she hopes she’ll never need to see her children selling or begging on the streets.
Around 5% of refugee children are currently engaged in labour – up from 2% in 2019. As the economic crisis bites deeper into society, it hurts children the most.
“I don’t see any way out of our dilemma,” Ajaib says. “We had six years of hardship in Lebanon, but somehow we managed. Over the past two years, the distance between us and society’s other urban poor has grown. I don’t recognise my life any longer”.
Driven by the needs of those affected by the crisis, UNICEF has refocused its efforts to reach more families struggling to afford even the most essential items. Ajaib’s family receives psychosocial support by being part of a parental support programme - implemented by UNICEF partner Terre des Hommes Lausanne - to help get the children back to schools and avoid child labour.
UNICEF has enhanced social assistance and provides emergency support to avoid the collapse of the public water services. It supports thousands of children to ensure access to education, healthcare, and child protection services. Yet, the needs are massive, and UNICEF needs more support to reach more vulnerable children.
* source: VASyR_2021