The 1001 challenges facing Syrian refugees in Lebanon

lebanon bekaa syrian refugees david hury
While in 2017, 76% of displaced Syrians lived below the poverty line, in 2018 there has been an a small improvement, with 69% of these displaced households living above the poverty line. © David Hury

It comes as no surprise, the new UN annual report shows how Syrian refugees in Lebanon still face many challenges. Lebanon Crisis Response Plan (LCRP), which was jointly developed by the Government of Lebanon (GoL), with the United Nations, along with other national and international NGOs and donors, in 2017 was aimed at tackling the multi-dimensional aspects of the Syrian crisis up to the year 2020. The framework was designed such that provided an integrated humanitarian approach which would stabilize the region. It factored in challenges facing Lebanon in a holistic manner, including its vulnerable population that were most affected by the crisis.

These include populations who were primarily displaced from Syria, the Lebanese host community, as well as the Palestinian refugees from Syria as well as those from Lebanon. The framework aims to deliver protection and provide immediate assistance to these most vulnerable populations.

The Lebanon Crisis Response Plan not only plans on building and strengthening the capacity to deliver at the local and national level but also expand access to basic services, while reinforcing Lebanon’s socio-economic, and environmental stability.

Last year, with the LCRP entering the second year of its four-year plan, it identified more than 3 million individuals who were in need of assistance. 52% of the framework’s budget amounting to $1.4 billion was made available to 85 partners; this includes $312 million which was carried over from 2017. At the end of 2018, the program had assisted 1.6 million persons. However, planing and budgetary allocations beyond 2018 have become a concern with sector specific support, particularly for the Energy, Livelihoods, and Shelter sectors, not finding additional traction due to a lack of funding.

As a result, the Lebanon Crisis Response Plan faces considerable headwinds when it tries to serve people with disabilities; these lots face considerable challenges for access to livelihoods and services without being dependent on somebody else. Another vulnerable population are children, especially those who have been separated from their families. While LCRP has been able to mitigate the deterioration of vulnerabilities facing them to a great extent, it is yet to halt them completely.

Upliftment from povety

While in 2017, 76% of displaced Syrians lived below the poverty line, in 2018 there has been an a small improvement, with 69% of these displaced households living above the poverty line. Although the increase in percentage terms is marginal but given the limited resources,  the cash-based assistance program has managed to managed to lift thousands of families from adject poverty including 15,000 additional households which were identified in 2018.

Much like the saying, a solution to the problem only changes the nature of the problem, families which have been lifted from poverty now face economic hurdles including debt. While the Lebanon Crisis Response Plan have lifted many Syrian households from poverty, they have however accumulated considerable debt. Nearly nine out of ten households are in  debt, with the average debt rising to US$ 250 per person, up from US$ 227 in 2017. Currently there are nearly 190,000 displaced families who live either at the bare minimum or at survival-expense levels; of these 62,000 receive multipurpose cash support.

Challenges in legal residency

Proving legal protedtion services to vulnerable populations remains a key challenge. This is despite waivers granted in 2018. Only 27% of displaced Syrian displaced over the age of 15 hold legal residency, similar to 2017 levels. In terms of civil documentation for the majority of Syrian children (97%) born in Lebanon have some form of documentation to attest to their birth. However, despite providing assistance for improving birth registration for Syrian children born in Lebanon, 79% of displaced births continued to remain technically unregistered in 2018; this is largely because they have yet to complete the necessary formalities to complete the registration process.

Another issue facing the Lebanon Crisis Response Plan is child labor. It continues to be a concern since a stable population of children, 5% since 2017, continue to be affected by it. There also appears to be some underreporting stemming from the social stigma attached to it. Children are also being affected by violent disciplinary practices with 73% suffering from some form of violence, down from 78% in 2017. Another concern is the issue of child marriage with 29% of girls, aged 15 to 19, married off in their teens; this is an increase of 7% from 2017.

Challenges to meet basic immediate needs

A serious concern for displaced Syrian households are shelter conditions. From 2017 levels, there has been a marked deterioration in shelter conditions amongst these displaced populations which went up to 34%, up from 26% in 2017. While access to drinking water has increase by 4% over the last four years and has peaked at 91% in 2018,  there is however a lack of data vis-a-vis the availability of water as well as its quality – two essential components of safe water management practices. In 2016 this was measured to be at 36 nationally.

An issue facing the Lebanon Crisis Response Plan is the overall level of food security: only 34% of displaced Syrian households moderately to severely food-insecure; this is down from 38% in 2017. Incidentally, only 10,000 out of 41,000 vulnerable Lebanese families have received food support.

Public services

There has a good response in terms of children attending school. 68% of Syrian children aged between 6 to 14 have been enrolled in school, up from 52% in 2016. This is despite the fact that costs of transportation and school supplies continuing to hinder enrolment.

87% of displaced Syrians received primary health care, while 77% of displaced Syrians were able to access secondary health services.  41% of children under the age of two were reported to be sick, up from 34% from a year ago. The most commonly reported issue for the 13% who were not able to access primary healthcare was cost for drugs, transportation and doctors’ fees. The Lebanon Crisis Response Plan will have to factor this in for the coming year.

Inter-communal relations

The competition for jobs have led to growing frustrations leading to intercommunity violence among displaced Syrians and their host communities, although it was largely stable in 2018. 30% of displaced Syrians have reported that at some point they have been verbally harassed; this is up by 10% in 2017.

Yet another issue facing the Lebanon Crisis Response Plan is that 21% of displaced Syrians have either rarely or never interacted with their host communities in social circles with competition over jobs being the primary source of tension nationally. Communal tensions over services and utilities is also becoming a fast growing menace, with environmental issues in particular causing tensions in 2018.

Employability status

The  employment status of the vulnerable population continues to be at fragile levels with the LCRP supporting 968 Lebanese businesses in 2018. On average, although 68% of displaced Syrian households had at least one member who was working, an increase of almost four percentage points from 2017, trends tended to significantly vary depending on governorate.

Incidentally, it would be interesting for the Lebanon Crisis Response Plan to note that 55% of displaced Syrian families which are headed by a female did not have any working members, compared to 27% of households headed by men; the trend is similar to 2017 levels.

Of the few displaced Syrian women who worked, 38% were primarily employed in agricultural activities, 10% in occasional work while 4% in cleaning-related works. As for displaced Syrian men, 32% were working in construction, 21% in agricultural activities and 11% in occasional work.

In 2018, the Lebanon Crisis Response Plan gave employment to 6,672 people for casual jobs in the construction of water reservoirs and land rehabilitation. The number includes displaced Syrians as well as host community. Further, Lebanese businesses were also supported with a special emphasis being placed on micro, small and medium sized enterprises, including WFP-contracted shop and women cooperatives.

Impact on the environment

According to research, the Syrian crisis has contributed negatively on the environment, especially with regard to the health of the ecosystems, solid waste, wastewater, air and water quality, as well as land use. Some progress had been made in 2018: 55 municipalities implemented integrated solid waste management systems and approaches in order to reduce quantities of waste discharged in open dumps. Further, the Environment Task Force helped resolve 17 complaints regarding the environment, the majority of which were related to solid waste management issues in the Bekka. It also conducted pro-active inspections.

Thanks to the framework of the Lebanon Crisis Response Plan several partners from the Water Sector were able to install wastewater management solutions in line with environmental legislation, this includes more than 3,000 farmers adopting sustainable farming practices.

Much of this success can be attributed to the formation of the Environment Task Force in 2018, which had developed an LCRP Environmental Marker system through which all LCRP activities were routed in order to ensure that they are aligned with national environmental safeguards. Additionally, the Ministry of Environment is also developing measurement methodologies to track the impact of the response on the environment.

In spite of these achievements, the framework of the Lebanon Crisis Response Plan will require a more predictable balanced funding for the short and the long term in order to mitigate emerging vulnerabilities. With the crisis becoming more protracted, displaced population will require to replenish their depleting saving and assets and to address these issues more funding will be required.