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Better Living Conditions for Lebanon’s Poorest

October 28, 2011

October 2011 - Abu Abdallah spends his days searching in waste containers for leftovers he can carry home to feed his family. He goes back to his single room home which houses his disabled mother, his wife and seven children. The youngest is only one, and the eldest is 15 years old. Abu Abdallah cannot afford to send them all to school, his two eldest sons work in a car shop to help support the family.

While such living conditions are not supposed to prevail in a middle income country like Lebanon, the latest statistics show that about one million Lebanese which make 28.5% of the population continue to live under the upper poverty line at $4 per person a day. Around 300,000 individuals, 8% of the population, live in extreme poverty at less than $2.4 per person a day, and are unable to meet their most basic food and non-food needs.

The deterioration in living conditions is not affecting only those living under the poverty line (and more specifically under the lower poverty line), but is also threatening large social groups that are located around the upper poverty line and who are highly sensitive to internal and external shocks.

In order to help improve the living conditions of the most poor and vulnerable populations, the Lebanese government launched on October 17, the National Poverty Targeting Program (NPTP), which is being implemented by the Ministry of Social Affairs and the Presidency of the Council of Ministers. The program was launched on the International Day of Poverty at a national ceremony in Beirut officiated by the Lebanese President Michael Sulaiman, Prime Minister Najib Mikati, and the Speaker of the House Nabih Berri, amidst a large gathering of stakeholders from government, civil society, donors, and the private sector.

The objective of the NPTP is to establish a national targeting system to be used by the Lebanese government in the delivery of social transfers and services aimed at improving the living standards of the population, and in particular of the poor and vulnerable.

“The objective of the program is to strengthen the social safety net system – particularly the public safety net system – which in Lebanon is weak and fragmented,” said Wael Abu Faour Minister of Social Affairs. “In so doing, the NPTP also has a wider objective – that of strengthening the role of the state with respect to the citizen. The NPTP will create a mechanism by which the Lebanese government can reach out directly to its citizen regardless of confession, origin or otherwise.”

The NPTP is part of the Second Emergency Social Protection Implementation Support Project (ESPISP II), a $6 million grant from the World Bank to Lebanon. The objective is to improve the administration, delivery, financial sustainability, and targeting of social services. This is done through the implementation of new systems and the adoption of new policies in the National Social Security Fund, the Ministry of Labor, the Ministry of Public Health, the Ministry of Social Affairs and the Ministry of Education and Higher Education.

The total cost of this component is US$9.34 million, $1.25 million of which is financed by the World Bank; $598,000 by the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, CAD$2 million by the Canadian International Development Agency and US$5.5 million by the government of Lebanon.

The NPTP comprises of 3 phases:

  1. Design of the targeting mechanism: The design and development of the targeting mechanism, which started three years ago, is based on the “proxy-means testing” (PMT) targeting methodology - a multi indicator scoring system according to which households are scored. The PMT is based on observable (and easy to verify) household characteristics that are empirically found to be correlated with households’ socio-economic status (family assets, socio-economic characteristics of family members and demographic characteristics). The proxy-means testing system will inform policy makers on who are the poor and vulnerable households in Lebanon and enable them to plan and implement different programs to assist them.
  2. The Pilot Phase: The PMT mechanism was piloted by the Ministry of Social Affairs in 2009 in three areas in Beirut, namely Ein El Remmeneh, Chiyeh, and Tarik El Jdideh. Household applications submitted at the social development centers in these areas were collected and verified by trained social inspectors. After data entry, households were allocated a score and ranked according to their level of welfare, based on the PMT formula.
  3. The National Program: The National Program is being administered by a Central Management Unit that has been set up at the Presidency of Council of Ministers and by a team set up at the Ministry of Social Affairs. The Targeted Social Assistance Program shall be implemented by approximately 350 social workers and inspectors who have been hired to implement the program at the levels of 96 social development centers of the ministry. They have been trained to implement the targeting method and collect needed information from households. Information will be verified and processed using an automated management information system.

“While the Lebanese economy has recently been on a path of growth, social policies failed to a great extent in bridging the gap between economic growth and social development. Economic growth and monetary gains have not trickled down to the less fortunate,” said Hedi Larbi World Bank Country Director. “Lebanon is a country prone to regular economic, social, political, natural shocks – either external or internal – and as such does not have adequate systems to address the needs of those hit by these shocks. At a time when the Arab people throughout the region are calling for social equality and justice, the launch of this program comes particularly timely.”

The fundamental principles of the NPTP are equity, fairness, helping those most in need, objectivity and transparency. The eligibility testing process is automated and discretionary decisions on who gets the assistance are reduced if not eliminated. A complaint and appeal procedure has also been established.

The major output of the NPTP will be a credible, accurate and automated live data base on the poor and vulnerable that will include over 150,000 households, enabling an objective assessment of the households’ welfare and their ranking. The database will be established and fully operational, enabling the Lebanese government to use it to target its social safety net programs aimed at improving living standards of the population.

Households receiving assistance shall undergo re-certification, which is a full reassessment of its economic and social situation after the benefit period has expired or is about to expire. All other households in the data base shall undergo re-certification once in two years.

“The NPTP has been designed and is being implemented based on international experiences and best practices, but allowing for Lebanese specificity,” said Haneen Sayed Human Development Coordinator in the World Bank Lebanon Office. “Lebanon will soon be joining more than 40 developing countries around the world that have established similar programs that target and support the poor through the scientific and objective methodology that is being utilized in the NPTP”.

The NPTP will improve the poverty focus, efficiency, and effectiveness of social safety net programs in Lebanon and ensure that government assistance reaches the truly poorest and most vulnerable population.

The application process for all Lebanese households is open as of October 17, 2011. Accordingly, the database on the poor and vulnerable is expected to be completed by February 2012.