Interview: How Palestinian children are bearing the brunt of Lebanon’s economic crisis

Palestinian children are among the worst affected by Lebanon’s economic crisis as more than 90% of Palestinian refugees are now living in poverty. Wafa Dakwar, Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP)’s Senior Programme Manager, describes the health challenges facing Palestinian children and how MAP is responding.

What is life like for a Palestinian child living in a refugee camp in Lebanon today?

Children live in extremely difficult conditions in the refugee camps. They do not have access to the same opportunities that other children do. Instead of playing in playgrounds or parks, they play in the narrow dark alleys of the refugee camps where electricity wires mix with water pipes.

Children worry about not having electricity, water, pocket money, or medicine for a sick family member. They also witness their parents’ concerns about not having enough money for food and clothes. As children become more aware of the restrictions they face as Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, particularly with regards to access to employment and education, their hopes become even more limited.

How have children been affected by the worsening economic crisis and deteriorating living conditions? What are the biggest threats to their health right now?

According to the UN agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA), 93% of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon are now living in poverty. Meanwhile, the cost of food is skyrocketing and causing alarming levels of malnutrition: there is a 10% prevalence of stunting in Palestinian refugees and 28% prevalence of anaemia in children 0-5 years old.

Children often tell me how their families are unable to buy simple things for them like sweets or clothes. They experience severe electricity cuts and the high cost of private generators means they are often left with less than two hours of government electricity per day. So they find themselves having no choice but to hang out in the refugee camps’ alleys and are exposed to danger.

Will the standard of living deteriorate even further for some children over winter?

The cost of fuel used for heating has increased by more than 500% since the beginning of Lebanon’s economic crisis in 2019. Sadly, many families will not be able to keep their children and their homes warm during the winter.

Transportation costs have also soared, making it almost impossible for many families to send their children to school. Those who live close enough to school will have to walk in the cold and harsh weather.

Food security is another key issue among the poorest families and their children. This is expected to worsen, as many Palestinian refugees are reliant on seasonal jobs and do not work during the winter months.

Have you seen increasing numbers of children needing mental health support? How do MAP and its partners provide this support?

More children and families are requesting psychosocial support from MAP and its partners than ever before. As families are unable to secure their basic needs, the stress this places on children is causing a profound psychological toll.

MAP and its partners provide mental health and psychosocial support services to children and their caregivers mainly through community centres in the Palestinian refugee camps. Together, we have established 14 child-friendly community centres across the camps, which operate daily and offer structured psychosocial support activities to children aged between three and 17, and their caregivers.

In addition, MAP supports the Ghassan Kanafani Cultural Foundation’s habilitation preschool which, alongside early childhood education and intervention, provides psychological services to children with disabilities and their families.

What is your biggest hope for Palestinian children in refugee camps in Lebanon?

I hope that Palestinian children can live in an environment that allows them to stay safe and protected and gives them opportunities to develop, prosper, and achieve their full potential. I hope that they have access to justice and the right to return to their homeland in Palestine.

You can support Palestinian children in Lebanon by donating to MAP today.


Photo: Children at the Solidarity Association for Social and Cultural Development’s Solidarity Centre in Shatila refugee camp, Lebanon. (Credit: Elizabeth Fitt for MAP).

Stay updated – join our mailing list

* indicates required
Your Interests