World Food Programme staff respond to coronavirus in Lebanon

The coronavirus outbreak and lockdown measures have had a detrimental impact on vulnerable communities across the globe. In Lebanon, this is particularly true as the virus came at a critical period for a country trying to stay afloat during an unprecedented economic and financial crisis.

WFP works to ensure the most vulnerable have sufficient and nutritious food all year long. Through its field offices and dedicated humanitarian workers across the country, WFP runs an array of programmes that offer vital assistance to the most vulnerable.

“My job entails intervening during trying times like these,” says Ruba al-Dirani who works as a Monitoring Assistant for WFP’s Livelihood Programmes covering the Bekaa area. Ruba’s work involves the distribution of food e-cards, onsite project monitoring and liaising with various partners.

“We are organizing food e-card distributions so that a minimum number of people are present at the same time in the same place. This is one of the many precautionary measures we’re implementing to make sure everyone involved in the process is safe. No matter what is going on, our work cannot stop. People are in need of this assistance,” says Ruba.

She and her team are also in constant contact with local authorities to receive the latest updates and recommendations from their end to ensure that all safety measures are followed.

The coronavirus outbreak and lockdown measures have pushed even more families into poverty, making vulnerability levels in the country ever more acute.

Funded by Germany, WFP’s Livelihood Programmes are designed to benefit both participants and the communities in which they operate. Participants acquire skills to generate an income while receiving support during their time with WFP. Communities benefit from assets such as agricultural roads, rehabilitated markets, common kitchens as well as reforestation initiatives.

Aside from the Livelihood Programmes, WFP’s staff members have been working around the clock to ensure that those benefiting from WFP’s cash assistance can redeem it safely. In north Lebanon, Philippe Sassine, Nastasia Ibrahim and Bernard Nader are on the ground near ATMs and shop — where people redeem their modes of assistance — to oversee processes and ensure everyone is abiding by all coronavirus precautionary measures.

“As crowds begin to gather, we make sure that everyone stays physically distant and respects all hygiene measures,” says Nastasia, a WFP Monitoring Assistant. Nastasia also communicates with the people we serve and partners to inform them of the latest coronavirus updates and measures adopted by WFP and the authorities.

“There are those who had jobs that paid by the hour to cover rent and medication and are now solely relying on humanitarian aid to make the necessary payments and put food on the table,” said Philippe Sassine, who works to stay in touch with the people WFP serves so that everyone feels safe and remains updated. He adds: “My work’s shaped my perspective on this emergency. Everyone is willing to lend a helping hand even if they are in dire need of assistance themselves”. He recalls the day a programme participant handed him an umbrella to keep him safe from the sun.

Bernard Nade, who is one of WFP’s drivers in the north now views every field visit as a lifesaving one. “Now more than ever I am appreciative of health and human connection,” he says, adding that he is motivated to give more to his community as needs increase.

From north Lebanon moving to Beirut, Mount Lebanon and the south, WFP’s staff members are present to ensure people redeem their assistance safely. Fatima Mouzahem and Rona Haddad remain in close contact with families receiving assistance through the National Poverty Targeting Programme (NPTP) through phone calls and in-person site visits.

“During this pandemic, we are regularly on the field to prevent families from resorting to negative coping mechanisms,” says Rona who prioritizes being in constant contact with those receiving WFP assistance. Because of COVID-19, Rona also learned to appreciate the smaller things in life, such as face-to-face greetings and meeting up with her coworkers and friends. Her colleague, Fatima, mirrored her thoughts and added that she cheers up the most when she notices improvements in the livelihoods and skills of the people benefiting from WFP programmes. “During these hard times, it is important we are there for one another and stay safe as much as possible in the hopes of avoiding a hunger pandemic.”

Since 2014, more than 107,000 Lebanese households have been reached through the NPTP, the Government of Lebanon’s social assistance programme that targets the poorest families across the country. WFP, through funds from the European Union and Germany, supports the programme’s food component via a food e-card that allows families to redeem their assistance at shops that are contracted and monitored by the organisation.

The United Nations World Food Programme is the world’s largest humanitarian organization, saving lives in emergencies, building prosperity and supporting a sustainable future for people recovering from conflict, disasters and the impact of climate change.

In Lebanon, WFP has been present since 2012 and works to ensure that local host communities and refugees can meet their food needs throughout the year.