Lebanon is an “upper middle income” economy, in the hermetic parlance of international development, but over one in four residents of the country live in poverty, according to a new study by the World Bank and Lebanon’s Central Administration of Statistics.
That translates to around 1 million individuals living without enough income to meet basic livelihood needs, making sacrifices between rent, food, health care, or other fundamentals. For Lebanon, that threshold is roughly $266 per person per month, the study determined.
In fact, the true measure of poverty is certainly graver, considering the study limitations and Lebanon’s rapidly changing demographics.
The study collected data from a random sample of households in 2011 and 2012, before the number of Syrians living in Lebanon reached anywhere near its recent peak.
At the time of the data collection, in November 2012, only 100,000 Syrians had registered with the UNHCR as refugees. Nearly 1.1 million are registered today.
And no data was collected in the UNRWA refugee camps, where around 240,000 Palestinians live in mostly squalid conditions.
The study will nevertheless prove itself as a useful tool to calibrate the government’s anti-poverty efforts, known as the National Poverty Targeting Program.
“This program aims to identify Lebanon’s poorest communities and help the government address their most urgent needs,” said Haneen Sayed, the World Bank’s Program Leader for Poverty and Social Protection, at an event to publicize the study.
The event was held at the bank’s office, a vault of exclusivity hidden in Downtown Beirut. Guests entered through a security antechamber and a blast door.
Around 16 percent of Beirut residents live in poverty, the lowest incidence in the country, according to the study, compared to 36-38 percent of North Lebanon and Bekaa Valley residents, where the rate of poverty is the highest. Overall, 27 percent of the country’s residents live below the poverty line.
Children of poor households are substantially less likely to complete their secondary school education or enroll in university, the study found. Ten percent of poor houses have no access to clean drinking water, and 6 percent live in an area with open sewage or no drainage system.
The new poverty study is the first by the CAS since 2005, though the results could not be compared because of incompatible methodologies, the authors said. But the CAS will continue to use the methods developed in this study so that the incidence of poverty can be tracked in the future.
“This poverty estimation will be considered as a baseline to improve the survey questionnaires, and in 2017, we will be able to [produce] a comparison,” CAS Director General Maral Tutelian told The Daily Star.
The CAS released the household data behind the findings two years ago, but only this month completed its collaborative study with the World Bank. Former Labor Minister Charbel Nahhas criticized it as outdated.
“It is not really a new study, only an extraction from a wider study that can be rich with many lessons,” Nahhas, who attended the event, told The Daily Star.
“All these data have been drastically transformed due to the arrival of Syrian displaced. Since most of the Syrian displaced fall into the poor category, this brings you to almost 35 or 40 percent of poor.”