Beirut, January 12, 2021 – The World Bank Group’s Board of Executive Directors approved today a US$246 million new project to provide emergency cash transfers and access to social services to approximately 786,000 poor and vulnerable Lebanese reeling under the pressure of Lebanon’s economic and COVID-19 crises. The Emergency Crisis and COVID-19 Response Social Safety Net Project (ESSN) will also support the development of a comprehensive national social safety nets system to allow a better response to ongoing and future shocks.
Lebanon has been facing compounded and unprecedented crises. A severe economic and financial crisis led to a projected 19.2% decline in GDP in 2020, triple digit inflation and a projected increase in poverty to 45% and in extreme poverty to 22%. Approximately 1.7 million people are estimated to fall under the poverty line, of which 841,000 people will be under the food poverty line. The situation has been further compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic with the recent alarming surge in the number of infected cases, a severely strained health and medical system and the devastating economic impact of lockdowns on jobs and livelihoods. Finally, the Port of Beirut explosion on August 4 resulted in the loss of precious lives and livelihoods, left ravaging damages estimated in the range of US$3.8-4.6 billion and lead to further migration and brain drain. Lebanon has also been facing the repercussions of a 10-year long Syria crisis causing a severe drain on public service delivery and resources: Lebanon hosts the largest per capita share of displaced Syrians, accounting to a quarter of its population.
“The consequences of these repeated shocks on the economic well-being of households is far-reaching and potentially disastrous”, said Saroj Kumar Jha, World Bank Mashreq Regional Director. “With poverty and inequality on the rise, social stability is at risk and hard-won gains in human capital investment can be easily reversed. This new project will support the expansion of the national poverty targeting program to protect poor and vulnerable households, particularly female-headed households and those with disabled or elderly people.”
The ESSN project will provide 147,000 extreme poor Lebanese households (approximately 786,000 individuals) with cash assistance for one year. Eligible households will receive a monthly transfer of LBP 100,000 per household member, in addition to a flat amount of LBP 200,000 per household. The transfer value per household will be uploaded monthly onto a pre-paid card issued by a financial service provider and distributed to beneficiary households who can cash out the amount at automated teller machines, or use it to make electronic payments for purchases in a network of food shops. Furthermore, 87,000 children between the ages of 13-18 year will receive a top-up cash transfer to cover the direct costs of schooling including school registration fees, parents’ council fees, school textbooks costs, transport and school uniform expenses, and computer equipment and/or internet connectivity to enable remote learning. School fees will be paid directly to the respective schools.
The ESSN will scale-up and enhance Lebanon’s National Poverty Targeting Program (NPTP) launched in 2011 with support from the World Bank. Like the NPTP, the ESSN will adopt the Proxy Means Testing (PMT) targeting methodology to identify eligible beneficiary households across all Lebanese territories, as well as categorical targeting to prioritize socially vulnerable groups. The PMT methodology assesses households’ eligibility depending on a poverty score calculated based on their wealth, assets, demographic characteristics that are correlated with poverty. All potential beneficiaries will be assessed and verified before being declared eligible for assistance. Building on the experience in the implementation of the NPTP, the World Food Programme (WFP) will be contracted for the implementation of the cash-based assistance.
The ESSN will also support increased access to quality social services provided by the Social Development Centers of the Ministry of Social Affairs for 100,000 individuals from poor and vulnerable households, and will provide social workers at the Ministry and centers’ levels with capacity building activities to enable them to better carry out their functions.
“More importantly, to ensure sustainability, the ESSN will support the development of a comprehensive social safety net delivery system that can respond to future shocks”, said Haneen Sayed, World Bank Lead Operations Officer and Task Team Leader. “Such a system will be based on an integrated National Social Registry to be established by the Government of Lebanon that would allow the prompt and efficient identification of households to receive social assistance based on an assessment of their needs and living conditions.”
The ESSN project will be implemented by the Presidency of the Council of Ministers through the NPTP Central Management Unit in cooperation with the Ministry of Social Affairs and the Ministry of Education and Higher Education and under the guidance of the Inter-Ministerial Committee for Social Affairs chaired by the Prime Minister which is also in charge of developing a comprehensive social development strategy for Lebanon.
The ESSN project will adopt a robust Grievance Redress Mechanism to ensure queries and complaints are resolved in a prompt, efficient and transparent manner. An independent Third-Party Monitoring Agent will be recruited to verify eligibility and to confirm that payments have been duly made to end beneficiaries. Furthermore, an Expert Advisory Group composed of local experts from academia, think-tanks, and civil society in the fields of poverty and social policy will be established to provide guidance to the ESSN technical committee and ensure continuous engagement with stakeholders.