'Refugees in their own country': Lebanon backs aid for 500,000 families

by Timour Azhari | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Wednesday, 30 June 2021 12:45 GMT

FILE PHOTO: Saymen Faraj Oghlo, 8, eats dinner at his grandmother Souzy Bedigian's home, where he is staying with his parents and sister, after their home was damaged in an explosion on the Beirut port, in Beirut, Lebanon, August 19, 2020. REUTERS/Hannah McKay

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More than 750,000 Lebanese families, well over half the population, are now set to receive some form of assistance

By Timour Azhari

BEIRUT, June 30 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Lebanon's parliament on Wednesday approved a $556 million cash injection for half a million families - the latest aid package for a population pauperised by an economy in collapse.

The programme would provide up to $137 per family per month for a year and complements a $246-million World Bank loan for a basic social safety net that was approved by parliament in March but has not yet been disbursed.

It aims, in part, to replace a subsidy programme for basics such as fuel and food that costs the cash-strapped state some $6 billion a year but could now be halved, outgoing finance minister Ghazi Wazni said.

About half of Lebanon's 6 million people live below the poverty line, dragged down by a two-year economic crisis exacerbated by the pandemic and a massive port explosion last August that caused extensive damage to the capital.

"Lebanese have become refugees in their own country," said MP Hadi Aboul Hosn of the Progressive Socialist Party, noting an increasing reliance on the kind of aid formerly reserved for the country's large refugee population.

More than 750,000 Lebanese families, well over half the population, are now set to receive some form of assistance.

But funding for the latest programme for some 500,00 families remains unclear, with MPs refusing to dip further into Lebanon's foreign currency reserves and instead suggesting the caretaker government source funds from elsewhere.

Parliament also left it up to the country's caretaker cabinet - which resigned after the port blast and has not yet been replaced - to decide who qualifies for the help.

The World Bank has called Lebanon's crisis a "deliberate depression" caused by the country's politicians.

(Reporting by Timour Azhari @timourazhari Editing by Lyndsay Griffiths. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org)

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