BEIRUT — The UN warned Wednesday that the number of impoverished Palestinians in Lebanon has risen substantially, fueling a “dramatic humanitarian crisis” as the country’s economy collapses further.
For the past three years, Lebanon has been in the throes of one of the worst economic crises in recent world history, according to the World Bank — dealing an especially heavy blow to vulnerable communities, including refugees.
Two-thirds of Palestinian refugee families in Lebanon have reduced the number of meals they eat per day, said Leni Stenseth, deputy commissioner-general at the UN agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA), addressing reporters in Beirut.
Her statement comes days after UNRWA “urgently” appealed for $13 million in funding for cash assistance to families, primary health care services and to keep the agency’s schools open until the end of this year.
The poverty level among Palestinian refugees in Lebanon has shot up from a little more than 70 percent at the beginning of the year to 93 percent, according to UNRWA.
“This means that almost everyone is without the ability to cater for the most basic needs in their lives,” Stenseth said.
“This is a dramatic humanitarian crisis.”
Lebanon hosts about 210,000 Palestinian refugees, including 30,000 who fled Syria after war erupted in 2011, according to UNRWA.
It also hosts more than one million Syrian refugees.
Most Palestinians live in 12 official refugee camps in squalid conditions, worsened by Lebanon’s financial meltdown, and face a variety of legal restrictions, including on their employment.
“We know the infrastructure in Lebanon is depleted… of course the camps are in no better state,” she said, adding that UNRWA is working on a prevention campaign to help shield refugees from a cholera outbreak that struck Lebanon last month.
Cholera has spread mainly among Lebanon’s Syrian refugees, but no cases have so far been reported in Palestinian camps.
“We’ve asked for funding now to prepare for the situation that has just surfaced linked to cholera,” she said.
Palestinians were among more than 100 who died after a migrant boat that left from Lebanon’s north sank off neighboring Syria, in one of the deadliest such shipwrecks in the eastern Mediterranean.
Economic collapse has pushed hundreds to attempt perilous sea journeys in the hope of reaching Europe.
This trend is “also a risk to Europe,” Stenseth said.
“Better to act now and provide us with what we need,” she said in reference to the agency’s funding needs, “rather than responding too late.”