Two children sit on a wall in Lebanon, where an economic crisis and related shocks have left families increasingly vulnerable.

UNICEF in Lebanon

A prolonged economic crisis is threatening to derail children's futures. A look at what UNICEF is doing to support the most vulnerable.

Lebanon: a crisis for children on multiple fronts

The situation continues to deteriorate for children in Lebanon, the result of the worst economic crisis in the nation's history.

Home to the world’s highest per capita concentration of refugees – the government estimates that Lebanon is now home to 1.5 million refugees, mostly Palestinian and Syrian – Lebanon has been hit by a cascading series of political and economic crises in recent years, including a collapse of the nation's currency, rising sectarian tensions and enduring political gridlock.

A majority of children living in Lebanon lack essentials

These and other challenges — compounded by the devastating effects of COVID-19 — have pushed families to the breaking point. 

Almost 9 in 10 households no longer have enough money to buy essentials, according to the results of a 2023 UNICEF survey.*

A growing number are sending their children—some as young as six years old – to work. An estimated 700,000 children are now out of school.

“I just want my children to live their childhood, to play and learn,” one Lebanese father of three told UNICEF. 

A father of three in Lebanon who told UNICEF he just wants his children to have a childhood.
"I just want my children to live their childhood," one Lebanese father of three, above, told UNICEF. The worst economic crisis in Lebanon's history is taking a heavy toll on families. © UNICEF/ FouadChoufany

Over half the population lives in poverty

Lebanon’s economic tailspin began in October 2019, after new tax measures prompted massive protests, the resignation of the cabinet and prime minister and a protracted political stalemate.

The following August, a massive explosion in Beirut’s port killed over 200 people, injured more than 6,500 people and left 300,000 homeless; the disaster also prompted a new wave of resignations (though the investigation has since stalled). The global pandemic and sizable refugee population has added to the strain.

Today, more than half of the Lebanese population lives below the poverty line; the vast majority of refugees live in extreme poverty. 

“The compounding crises facing the children of Lebanon are creating an unbearable situation – breaking their spirit, damaging their mental health and threatening to wipe out their hope for a better future,” says Edouard Beigbeder, UNICEF Representative in Lebanon.

In 2022, the nation experienced its first cholera outbreak in 30 years, leading to widespread cases of acute watery diarrhea, a treatable but highly dangerous condition for kids already weakened by malnutrition.

Economic strain is increasing tensions at home  

The 2023 survey also found that economic pressures were increasing tensions at home; more than half, or 53 percent of respondents, said they were less tolerant towards their children’s behavior and treated them more harshly than before, while 6 in 10  said they felt they wanted to shout at their children, and 2 in 10 felt they wanted to hit them.

The toll on children's mental health

Almost 7 in 10 caregivers who responded to the survey said their children seemed anxious, nervous or worried, and almost half said their children were very sad or feeling depressed every week.

More than 6 in 10 (62 per cent) said their children’s well-being worsened over the past year.

How UNICEF is helping children and families in need in Lebanon

UNICEF is on the ground in Lebanon working with partners to meet urgent needs across all major program areas. Efforts include:

Health, immunization and nutrition

  • supporting mental health and psychosocial support services for children and caregivers
  • supporting the procurement of essential medications and medical supplies for primary health care centers
  • supporting improved access to vaccination services to reach hundreds of thousands of children through mobile vaccination units
  • equipping 150 primary healthcare centers with solar equipment and power supply, to reduce costs and ensure immunization and essential services are not interrupted
  • providing micronutrient supplements to improve nutrition for 58,000 children under age 5; screening 400,000 children and subsidizing treatment to 3,200 acutely malnourished children

Water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH)

  • supporting water services with supplies, consumables and repairs — making it possible to sustain the equivalent of one to two hours a day of clean drinking water supply to 3.4 million people
  • ensuring that 3 million people have access to safe water and wastewater management systems, and providing 180,000 children and women access to resilient primary health care amid the cholera epidemic
  • rehabilitating 11 wastewater treatment plants

Child protection and safeguarding child rights

  • supporting child protection services, including gender-based violence prevention and response
  • partnering with the Ministry of Information and local media to protect children and adolescents from media risks and to advocate for their rights
  • rolling out a child protection policy in education as a catalyst for violence-free schools; this calls for addressing situations of violence through early identification, and a functioning referral system, while protecting the privacy of the student and their parents
  • engaging more than 134 religious leaders to strengthen their role in promoting and protecting children’s rights, applying UNICEF’s framework for social and behavior change
  • supporting the government of Lebanon to launch the country’s first-ever National Disability Allowance, together with the ILO and civil society groups

Children's education

  • supporting more than 400,000 vulnerable children with access to formal education by covering their school enrollment fees
  • training 25,000 teachers in learning recovery, and addressing learning losses caused by the closure of schools during COVID-19
  • providing Cash for Education assistance for more than 73,500 children in formal education, including children with disabilities
  • rehabilitating 120 public schools and launching site work for the construction of four new school complexes

An estimated 700,000 children in Lebanon are suffering multiple deprivations and require urgent humanitarian assistance.

UNICEF is appealing for increased donor support to help scale assistance programs and reach more vulnerable children and families in need.

“Increasing investment in education, health and social protection will help mitigate the impact of the crisis, ensure the well-being and survival of future generations and contribute to economic recovery,” Beigbeder says. 

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*UNICEF conducts child-focused rapid assessments in Lebanon twice a year. The results reported here are from the May 2023 CFRA conducted by telephone with some 2,090 participating households, including 1,083 Lebanese households, 518 Syrian refugees households and 489 Palestinian refugee households.

TOP PHOTO: An economic crisis and related shocks have left children in Lebanon increasingly vulnerable. © UNICEF2023/Fouad-Choufany/Lebanon
TOP PHOTO: An economic crisis and related shocks have left children in Lebanon increasingly vulnerable. © UNICEF2023/Fouad-Choufany/Lebanon