Hariri launches campaign to support “Afaal”: Nothing more urgent than helping 250 000 Lebanese living with less than 9 000 LL per day

Former Prime Minister Saad Hariri sponsored this afternoon the launching of a campaign to support the program "Eradication of Extreme Poverty and Deprivation in Lebanon - Afaal", i.e. the draft law submitted by MP Robert Fadel to Parliament.

The ceremony was attended by Deputy Speaker Farid Makari, Ministers Sejaan Azzi, Nabil de Freij and Rashid Derbas, head of the parliamentary education bloc MP Bahia Hariri, MPs of the Future bloc, a number of Arabs and foreign diplomats, World Bank Lebanon Country Director Farid Belhaj, representatives of international organizations and civil society and figures from the banking sector and diplomats.

Belhaj gave the following speech:

"Allow me to thank Premier Saad Hariri for his presence and support of this noble initiative. I would also like to thank Deputy Robert Fadel and the esteemed MPs for their tireless efforts in the fight against poverty and deprivation in Lebanon, in particular in light of the successive crises that the country is facing.

I am honored to be with you today at the "Center House" to support the draft law submitted by His Excellency Deputy Robert Fadel concerning "Afaal program" to reduce poverty and address this dangerous phenomenon. If this draft law is voted in parliament, it will be considered the most important stage towards activating the eradication of extreme poverty and deprivation at the national level in Lebanon.

Lebanon is facing today economic and social challenges that are weakening its internal immunity and the State and the people. Some of these challenges appeared because of the Syrian crisis, and others were at the heart of the country before the Syrian crisis. The most important challenge is the level of poverty that this country, rich of its culture, resources and the resilience of its people, is facing.

Based on a recent study elaborated by the World Bank in collaboration with the Central Administration of Statistics, the data indicate that a quarter of a million Lebanese citizens (235 thousand people) live in extreme poverty, i.e. on less than $ 5.7 per day. Which means that 8 percent of Lebanese are unable to secure daily food needs for themselves and their children.

There are around one million people who live on less than US $ 8.7 per day. The figures indicate that 27 percent of Lebanese are poor and cannot provide their basic needs of living. The poverty rate increases to 36 percent in northern Lebanon and 38 percent in the Bekaa Valley.

In addition, the Syrian crisis and massive influx of Syrian refugees in Lebanon during the past five years has contributed in raising the poverty rate, and we estimate that in addition to the numbers that I already mentioned, 200 thousand Lebanese have entered into the cycle of poverty because of the crisis.

We reiterate that the international community should exert more efforts to help Lebanon. At the same time, the serious initiatives like the one we are launching today are considered as one of the most important elements in the process of eliminating poverty and marginalization. The challenges have reached their peak. "Afaal" Program is an important and needed initiative in such a circumstance. The program provides cash assistance aimed at teaching children and building parents' capacities. We realize, according to international expertise, that such a program is one of the most effective ways that led to the reduction of poverty.

The "Afaal" program completes the National poverty targeting program NPTP that started to be implemented in 2009. The World Bank has helped the Lebanese government prepare and implement the project, and granted $ 25 million to provide technical and financial support. Currently and under the leadership of Minister Rashid Derbas and the Premiership, free educational and health services are being provided to more than 125 000 Lebanese with the use of the latest technology to target the poor, as well as giving more than 30 thousand Lebanese citizens e-cards to cover their basic food needs. The program also seeks to enable the poorest families to break the cycle of poverty.

We are proud to have contributed to the launch of this project with the Lebanese government, and the number of partners has grown and the support network has expanded over the years to include both the World Food Program, and the Office of the UNHCR, the UNICEF, and a number of donors and NGOs.

During his recent visit to Lebanon, the President of the World Bank Dr. Jim Yong Kim was touched by the burden suffered by the poor people in Lebanon. He saw in this draft law a satisfactory and efficient solution to reduce poverty and to provide a decent living for the Lebanese citizen. He stressed the importance of its vote. If ratified, Lebanon will join the 60 countries implementing the program, such as Brazil, Mexico, the Philippines, Indonesia and Turkey.

President Kim, the United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon stressed, the President of the Islamic Development Bank Dr. Mohammed Ali, underscored during their visit to Lebanon last week, the necessity to activate the public institutions in Lebanon. This remains a key element in the fight against poverty and deprivation, and the implementation of national programs such as those proposed today. As a first step, we accentuate the need to approve a financial budget law to serve the public interest and address the institutional vacancy that the country suffers from. As Dr. Kim said on more than one occasion: "Help us help you." And "Afaal" program may be the first step for Lebanon to help itself".

MP Robert Fadel thanked Premier Hariri for his invitation and his support of "Afaal" draft law to combat poverty and deprivation in Lebanon.

He added: "Allow me to start with some numbers related to poverty that are easy to understand and memorize:

We have 900.000 Lebanese living under the poverty line, among whom 250.000 under the extreme poverty line.

250.000 persons from all sects and regions live with less than 6 dollars a day and that does not allow them to cover their basic needs.

What is worse is that their children are not going to school, especially when they reach an age when they can work and become breadwinners.

And what makes things worse, is that the Syrian refugees headed to the poorest areas and were received by Lebanese families who were already in need for support and care and shared with them their food and drinks.

At the same time, the region is on the boil because of extremism and violence and because most regimes failed to treat the social issues, to a point where any terrorist movement can now attract the youth who lost hope in a better future.

In this situation, it has become clear that eradicating poverty has surpassed the moral and human dimension, and became one of the stability and civil peace fundamentals.

On the other hand, poverty added to illiteracy lead practically to bequeathing poverty and despair.

These are the explanatory statements for this draft law.

Today, as the head of the Future Movement and of the biggest parliamentary Bloc adopts the "Afaal" draft law, there is a big hope that the State can have the intention and determination to treat extreme poverty and its causes.

How can Afaal treat extreme poverty?

The answer is simple: with a monetary assistance conditioned to educating children and training parents.

The cash assistance is the third of the minimum wage, i.e. 225.000 L.L per month for each family living under the line of extreme poverty and meeting two conditions:

The first condition is to educate their minor children, knowing that the Ministry of social affairs must cover the registration fees and school fund for all.

The second condition: parents must enroll in free training sessions to acquire new skills and find new job opportunities.

International experiences in more than 60 countries have shown the efficiency of what is called : "the conditional cash assistance" and its positive impact on the poverty level. This is what the President of the World Bank confirmed. He had a remarkable stance last month at the end of his visit to Lebanon with the UN Secretary General when he said:

"I urge the Lebanese Parliament to approve "Afaal draft law to combat extreme poverty in Lebanon" that is being discussed at the moment, as it will be a courageous and important step for Lebanon on the way to combat poverty and enhance common prosperity."

What is the difference between Afaal draft law, and the National Poverty Targeting Program NPTP, that exists at the Social Affairs Ministry?

The explanation that M. Belhaj presented shows that the Social affairs ministry has done a great job with the help of the World Bank, to conduct a survey about the poorest families and provide the necessary tools to combat poverty. It developed a database of more than 100 000 families, currently under revision and verification.

It also established more than 220 social centers on all Lebanese territories and started granting health, schooling and food aids.

On this occasion, I pay tribute to my friend the minister of social affairs Rachid Derbas and his predecessors for everything they have done in the ministry.

This system is the basis on which we want to build the program Afaal. However it has some shortfalls that this law will cover:

First, the budget is insufficient to help all the poorest families.

Second, the aids are unconditional; therefore, they do not treat the causes of poverty through educating children and training parents to become productive elements.

Third, we can secure the continuity of combating poverty if it becomes a law, and this is one of Afaal's goals.

In brief, Afaal will be based on the National poverty targeting program NPTP, expand its domain and budget, secure its continuity and treat causes of poverty in addition to its results.

What remains is the issue of funding this program:

Its annual cost is 70 million dollars, probably less because maybe not all families will meet the required conditions to obtain aids.

I would like to highlight 2 points:

First, this amount is very little, first for the number of beneficiaries, i.e. 250.000 Lebanese, second for the possibility of reducing their indescribable suffering, and third for the benefits of training them, teaching their children and investing in our human resources. Second, it is shameful for the State and for those responsible of it to invoke the inability to provide this small amount, given this squandering and expenses taking place in the State.

70 million dollars are less than 5 % of the electricity deficit and less than 7 % of the increase in the grades and salaries scales.

And this does not take into account the international aid, knowing that the international organizations and the donor countries have contributed in funding the NPTP.

Experts predict that the international aid to combat poverty might reach 100 million dollars in the coming 5 years.

I said in the past and reiterate today: a state that hesitates to spend 70 million dollars to combat extreme poverty, or depends on foreign aid to help the weakest categories of society is a failed state in all moral and public interest standards.

After all this explanation, one question remains: what hinders the approval of this draft law?

A year and a half after submitting this draft law and the stalling to approve it, despite the responsiveness and interest shown by the presidents of the health and finance committees as well as concerned subcommittee, it has become clear that some leaderships are not concerned with combatting extreme poverty, or it is not among their priorities for many reasons:

Some leaders are not interested because poor people simply do not have syndicates and nobody asks for their rights

Some others because financing this program requires the cessation of a small part of squandering- as I do not wish to use another word- and this is a taboo.

Some others because this draft law frees 250 000 Lebanese from services and personal help that most leaders and parties provide and therefore limits their grip on the life and vote of their electoral base.

Some others are in denial, as if poverty does not exist in Lebanon or only concerns a small part of the Lebanese people, or just a sect or a region.

Some others because an independent MP submitted this draft law, therefore it does not score points in their narrow political game.

To those uninterested leaders, I would like to say a few sincere words:

Afaal program is a duty imposed by conscience, logic, morality and all religious teachings.

To all those who are not concerned by these consideration, I say very frankly: no security, no safety and no continuation for a state and politicians who ignore the suffering of their people.

While we criticize some leaders, we cannot but pay tribute to the weakest category in our society for their sense of responsibility. Yes their sense of responsibility because they strictly refused and are still refusing to resort to violence and extremism. This category showed more responsibility and farsightedness than some leaders. They also gave the world an example of hospitality when they hosted millions of refugees and displaced people, and showed that they are more generous than the citizens of advanced countries who hesitated to receive thousands of refugees. I pay tribute to those who give a lot while they receive a little.

Finally, our meeting with you and through you with all the Lebanese is not a celebration, nor it is the end. It is the beginning. The beginning of a road that will surely lead to the approval of this draft law that is a just and important cause and not just an initiative to clear the conscience.

I hope the road would be fast and easy, and we will contact all parties to ratify this law as soon as possible, knowing that we are ready for all difficulties and complications.

Unfortunately, political achievement is difficult in Lebanon but the moral value of accomplishment is our incentive. We promise to continue this project until achieving it regardless of the cost and no matter how much it will upset people with small interests and empty speeches. Because politics in its noble meaning is not just words, it is deeds."

Premier Hariri said:

"We thank World Bank Lebanon Country Director Ferid Belhaj and MP Robert Fadel for their valuable words. We in Lebanon are suffering from big problems, most importantly the presidential vacuum. And all of you are familiar with the efforts we are exerting to elect a president and end the vacuum as the basis to solve all problems.

Meanwhile nothing prevents us from trying to solve the most urgent problems, and we think that there is nothing more urgent than having more than 250 thousand Lebanese compelled to live with less than 9 thousand Lebanese pounds per day. These are the poorest and most deprived in Lebanon.

Honestly, this situation is a stain of shame on all of us. The reasons behind this situation are numerous, most importantly that the economic growth deteriorated from 8% in 2011 to 0 last year. When the economic growth disappears, or deteriorates, job opportunities disappear in all sectors and regions. Thus, we always say that ending the vacuum as soon as possible is a necessity to reactivate the state and its institutions to relaunch the economy and return to growth and finding job opportunities, to fight the real reasons of poverty.

Anyway, "Afaal" initiative, i.e. that the draft law submitted by MP Robert Fadel is a dire, necessary and immediate need. For the reason that it fights extreme poverty in Lebanon on one hand, and enhances job opportunities once the economy grows again on the other. By obliging them to go through technical training and gain skills, and to educate their children so they are ready to enter the job market when growth returns, and it will return to Lebanon God willing.

We, at the Future Movement, always say that we are the movement of moderation and the strong barrier in the face of extremism. But despair lives on poverty, and poverty and despair have no sect, no region or identity. Poverty does not ask about religion or region. And as martyr Premier Rafic Hariri used to say, "desperate people commit desperate actions". This is why fighting poverty is a permanent concern for the "Future Movement."

In 2004, Martyr Premier Rafic Hariri held a national conference to discuss the phenomenon of poverty in Lebanon, and in 2007 premier Siniora's government submitted an economic program at Paris III Conference. One of the outcomes of the conference was the launch of the national program to eradicate poverty, in cooperation with the World Bank, which we thank for its efforts and contributions.

Our colleagues in the Future Parliamentary Bloc submitted several draft laws including the healthcare card draft law to ensure medical coverage to all citizens, and old age social security draft law to ensure permanent income for the private sector retirees.

Today, we meet to launch a campaign to support "Afaal" draft law, i.e. "Eradication of Extreme Poverty and Deprivation in Lebanon" program. I call on all MPs, parliamentary blocs and political forces, regardless of their political disputes, to exert all efforts to vote "Afaal" draft law as soon as possible.

This is not a political, sectarian, or regional issue. It is a national issue related to our social security and human dignity. I call all the concerned parliamentary committees to submit this law to the general assembly for approval. This will open the way for our brothers and friends in the Arab world and the world, and the concerned international organizations, to contribute with us so that we can proudly say, as soon as possible, that every Lebanese citizen under the extreme poverty line has found a hand to lead him from desperation to decent living".

The launching was followed by a dialogue with the attendees that focused on the program, its importance and objectives.

Source: National News Agency