Lebanon moves closer to cash aid with opening of World Bank aid program

Lebanon on Wednesday opened online registration for aid programs, including a multi-million dollar cash assistance plan from the World Bank, two years after the country’s economy collapsed.

The delay in launching aid programs after the crisis highlights the slowness of political action in the face of growing poverty. Almost 80% of the Lebanese population is in need, according to UN data.

“These programs are not a solution, but rather a temporary support to help Lebanese citizens to survive,” Lebanese Minister of Social Affairs Hector Hajjar said at the launch of the program.

The government’s plan includes two initiatives: an emergency social safety net program from the World Bank that will distribute cash assistance to the most needy Lebanese families, and a larger ration card plan which is still under discussion.

World Bank aid is a loan of $ 246 million and the ration card scheme would cost $ 556 million.

Both had been on the table for more than a year, but disagreements between politicians and donors over transparency and payment mechanisms delayed aid delivery.

Lebanese who wish to register have two months to complete an online form. Payments will begin in early 2022 and will be made retroactively for the previous months.

The World Bank’s program will provide cash assistance to 150,000 of Lebanon’s poorest families, including 87,000 public school students. Each eligible family can receive $ 25 of assistance and $ 20 per person, for a maximum of six people. The program also helps students and covers their tuition fees.

The second step in the government’s plan is to put in place a ration card that would benefit up to 500,000 people. The government hopes to finance the card through the International Monetary Fund. Discussions on this plan have been underway for over a year.

Last summer, media revealed that Lebanese officials and politicians delayed the World Bank’s cash aid program to negotiate the distribution of cash aid in a devalued Lebanese currency and at a rate of exchange loser, so they can cash in the difference.

The assistance will be paid in dollars.

Saroj Kumar Jha, regional director of the Levant Department of the World Bank, said that “it has been a difficult journey and it has taken us a long time to reach this positive stage”.

He added that the program would be subject to “scrutiny and scrutiny.”

Lebanese leaders have come under international criticism for corruption, lack of transparency and political inaction in the face of one of the worst economic crises in modern history.

Social workers and volunteers hailed the government’s decision to open registrations, but denounced the delays and demands that they say are unrealistic.

“Any help is obviously welcome, but it’s such a long wait for such a small amount,” said Rayan Khatoun, volunteer with local charity Kelna Yani Kelna.

The World Bank’s help for a family of four is not enough to keep a family warm or to cover electricity bills, she said.

Online registration will exclude many people who do not have internet access or cannot read in a country where power cuts can last up to 23 hours a day.

“Expecting someone with a minimum wage or less to have internet access shows an incredible disconnect between the authorities and the people on the ground,” she said.

Delays in implementing social and economic reforms are compounded by political unrest.

The Lebanese cabinet has not met for more than a month after Hezbollah and its allies threatened to boycott the meetings if the judge investigating the Beirut port explosion was not removed.

The judge had summoned politicians close to the Iranian-backed group for questioning.

The explosion last year left more than 200 dead and more than 6,500 injured.

“More urgency is needed in these decisions, but we already know how it is in Lebanon,” Ms. Khatoun said. “There is never a sense of urgency to help people.”

Update: December 1, 2021, 5:45 p.m.

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