Published on Arab Voices

Who should pay for the poorest in Lebanon?

This post is part of a blog series that we hope will provide some food for thought on the critical questions outlined in the report on social safety nets.

This weekend, as I packed my suitcase for Beirut, I thought of the warm and welcoming people I’ll be working with over the next two weeks. This is my fourth visit to Lebanon this year, and each one has provided me with a different glimpse into Lebanese politics and society. It has helped me to understand the aspirations of some of the country’s citizens and the constraints faced by its policymakers.

While Beirut is always a joy to visit generally, the main reason for my frequent trips to Lebanon this year is to help support the government of Lebanon’s effort to improve its Social Safety Net (SSN) system. They want to make sure the safety net is reaching even the most marginalized, that it protects the poor and vulnerable against destitution and help people weather unexpected economic shocks.  

World Bank | Arne HoelLebanon has already started on the right path. My first trip to Beirut, in October last year, coincided with the launch of the National Poverty Targeting Program (NPTP), the first comprehensive government-run SSN program in the country.  NPTP represents a dramatic change for Lebanon. Historically, the country has relied on a myriad of charitable, religious, and non-governmental organizations in assisting the poor and vulnerable. But how effective have such SSN programs been in reaching their intended beneficiaries? And what do Lebanese citizens think about the role of government in providing safety nets?

This week, I am going to try to address these and other questions on safety nets in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) and their role in Lebanon at a seminar hosted by the Carnegie Middle East Center and the World Bank. We have recently completed a report, Inclusion and Resilience: The Way Forward for Social Safety Nets in the Middle East and North Africa, and the evidence we collected as part of this study speaks louder than words. For instance, our survey revealed that 83 percent of Lebanese citizens think that their government should be responsible for helping the poor (8 percent thought this was the  responsibility of  charitable organizations, and 5 percent thought it was up to religious groups). So, with the NPTP, the government is trying to meet the clear demand of its citizens to take a more active role in providing social safety nets.

As I am about to present the report’s findings in Beirut, it would be really helpful for me to know your views on the subject - what do YOU think your government should do about poverty and vulnerability? What does an effective safety net mean to you? Let’s start talking and find a way forward for MENA safety nets together!  

Read all the posts in the social safety net blog series:
Who should pay for the poorest in Lebanon?
NOW is the time to bring MENA's poor Into the net

It is time for the Arab world to invest in people not subsidies
Fighting poverty in the Arab world: with Soap Operas?
Can a game teach us how to better invest in the poor in Jordan?

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