BEIRUT: Data highlighting this year’s disbursement of international funds to Lebanon has sparked concern among humanitarian organizations. Only 36 percent of the total appeal filed by the U.N. refugee agency in Lebanon has been received to date, according to UNHCR.
Lebanon’s total reported funding for 2017 was registered in June as being 30 percent lower than in 2016, and currently does not exceed 53.6 percent of the total expected. International actors say low funds are a concern but there is no need to sound alarm bells.
“It seems that in 2017 we will end more or less at the same level as in 2016,” U.N. Humanitarian Coordinator Philippe Lazzarini told The Daily Star. “[However], I have flagged two problems. The first one is the slow disbursement of aid in 2017, which is causing a cash flow issue. The second is the lack of predictability for 2018 and beyond.”
According to Lazzarini, disbursed funds for 2017 are likely to reach last year’s benchmark of $1.57 billion. Figures collected by Lazzarini’s office differ from those of the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, which exclusively takes into account funds that are part of the Lebanese Crisis Response Plan – placing the figure slightly lower, at $1.28 billion.
Carry-over funds from 2015 – pledges that had not yet been delivered – brought the overall 2016 figure up to around $1.9 billion, Lazzarini explained. Lebanon is, and has been well financially supported, he concluded.
But international donors at the London and Brussels conferences had vowed to deliver multi-year assistance in order to facilitate the planning of long-term assistance programs – a promise that has not yet been fulfilled.
“We have important cash activities in the country that provide humanitarian safety nets for 700,000 refugees. At one point at the beginning of July ... we had no guarantee that the money would be made available before September, hence my call to donors to [ask them to] speed up,” Lazzarini said. “We need to make this humanitarian-development nexus a reality.”
UNHCR has received so far 36 percent of the funds it had appealed for, according to figures given to The Daily Star by a spokesperson. This represents a steep decrease compared to the same period in 2016, when funding was at 57 percent.
This gap prompted the UNHCR to issue a statement in June decrying a “critical gap” in funding that endangers life-saving programs providing health and cash assistance. According to the document, 65,000 secondary health care interventions were in jeopardy because of the lack of funds.
Similarly, UNRWA – the Palestinian refugee agency – recorded this year a shortfall of $31 million out of the $60.5 million it appealed for to meet the needs of Palestinian refugees from Syria in Lebanon.
“UNRWA welcomes further support for the critical needs of Palestine refugees from Syria in Lebanon,” the agency said in a statement to The Daily Star.
While these funding gaps seem dire, they do not worry all major international organizations. The World Food Program, which offers primary assistance in the form of an electronic food voucher (e-card) system, registered in August 2017 a shortfall of $64 million, compared to a $10 million shortfall in the same period last year.
“There are many contributions which are lined up but which have not yet been confirmed. We do not expect this [shortfall] to be a problem,” WFP spokesperson Edward Johnson told The Daily Star. “We technically have a $64 million shortfall, but this should be resolved within the next couple of days or a week.”
Unlike in 2015 – when funds were pledged but never arrived – Johnson said that in 2017 the WFP so far always received all the scheduled donations. “We still have another month before our next transfer of aid to refugees, and within a couple of days we should be fine,” he added.
At the Brussels Conference on Supporting the Future of Syria and the Region, held in April, 13.5 million people were estimated to be in need of humanitarian assistance within Syria, and over five million refugees in neighboring countries also required assistance.
“The situation is getting desperate,” United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi said in a statement after the conference. “We are already seeing children who aren’t able to go to school, families who cannot access adequate shelter or provide for their basic needs.”
An appeal for the Regional Refugee and Resilience Plan, or 3RP, for 2017 was launched in Helsinki in January – seeking $4.63 billion. So far, it has received 38.2 percent of the sum.
Seventy percent of Syrian refugees in Lebanon live under the poverty line and are reliant on humanitarian aid. The UNHCR estimates that, for many of them, cash assistance is the only means of buying medicine for sick family members and paying off bills and debts.