BEIRUT: Since mid-October, a number of billboards around Beirut have displayed an alarming message: “Half a million Lebanese people are hungry.”
The message is part of a campaign run by local NGO Lebanese Food Bank that aims to raise awareness of poverty and food waste in the country. Its launch, on Oct. 16, coincided with World Food Day.
“It’s an awareness campaign for people to know that there are people suffering from hunger in Lebanon,” says Soha Zeiater, Lebanese Food Bank’s executive manager.
According to the Lebanon Crisis Response Plan 2017-2020, which was updated this year, almost 106,000 Lebanese households are living in poverty on an income of $3.84 a day. The study lists economic vulnerability as one of the primary factors leading to food insecurity. LFB drew upon a previous LCRP study for its latest campaign.
At present, the government’s only scheme to tackle poverty is the National Poverty Targeting Program, announced in 2011, which works with the World Food Program to reduce food insecurity.
To do so, says Edward Johnson, WFP’s head of communications in Lebanon, the NPTP provides the WFP with a list of vulnerable people, who are then issued e-cards that are topped up monthly and can be used in local shops to purchase food.
While WFP currently assists 52,000 Lebanese beneficiaries, it doesn’t help all of the 106,000 households below the poverty line.
To make up the difference, a number of NGOs – includingLFB – are passing on otherwise wasted food from places such as restaurants and hotels to third-party NGOs.
Indeed, Zeiater says, the question is not one of a lack of access to food.
On the contrary, “it’s known in our community that we are very generous – especially in food.” Instead, it’s what to do with food waste, and the NGOs’ solution involves redistributing leftovers to vulnerable people around the country.
To make the scheme attractive to potential food donors, LFB signs a waiver to accept all legal responsibility for the food should it lead to any unexpected health complications. The charity also provides plastic containers and transports food in refrigerated vans to its NGO partners.
Perishable foods tend to be distributed close to Beirut and the surrounding area, while dry and canned foods more often go to areas of the country that are harder to reach.
One of LFB’s partners is the Lebanese Association for Coexistence and Development, an organization that gives food to a network of vulnerable families in Baalbeck and Bekaa. According to Hussein Hassan, a co-founder and its president, the families are logged in a database that he says “is increasing day after day because the level of poverty is increasing.”
Hassan estimates that currently his NGO has around 125 families in its database, but despite the work of its partners, it still does not have enough food to meet demand.
“We need more,” Hassan says. “We’re giving one donation per family per year knowing that this family needs donations all year long because they are living in miserable conditions. The level of poverty is increasing while the level of donations is the same.”