This groundbreaking study of poverty in Lebanon was launched on November 17, under the patronage of HE Wael Abou Faour, Minister of Social Affairs.  250 people came out to the evening event at the American University of Beirut in spite of heavy rain, and notable speakers addressed the audience comprised of community development professionals, government officials, religious figures, students, and others with an interest in poverty issues.

A significant contribution to literature for Lebanese policy-makers and development practitioners, Profiles of Poverty acts as a tool for finding solutions and implementing change for a more just Lebanese society.

The objective of this study was to understand the dynamics and causes of poverty. The authors felt that the best way to do this would be to allow the poor to speak and for them to describe their world. In a country where there are heated debates about security, justice, identity and what it means to be Lebanese, this publication is meant to give the poor a voice that can be heard in the midst of all the other competing voices. While we analyzed and used the available quantitative data, the core of this research was participatory. We wanted to hear the poor describe their world.

“What was obvious right from the beginning of the process is that poverty here in Lebanon and the Arab world does not look like poverty in Asia, Africa or Latin America. But it is just as real,” said Rupen Das, Director of Community Development and Relief for the Lebanese Society for Educational and Social Development.

The fact that Lebanon as a whole does fairly well in development indicators such as the Human Development Index and the Millennium Development Goals hides the fact that there are significant pockets of poverty in both urban and rural areas, and among certain ethnic groups. Yet poverty in a middle-income country like Lebanon is often ignored as the majority of the country is not poor. While many of the surrounding countries have oil and gas reserves, Lebanon lacks such resources and is dependent on service industries, all of which are easily disrupted by political tensions, uncertainty, violence, and conflict. This places severe restrictions on the budget available to the government to address issues of poverty.

Poverty is multidimensional and cannot only be measured by key economic indicators alone. The understanding of social indicators like exclusion and marginalization begin to explain the causes of poverty. The confessional and communal structure of Lebanese society does not allow for social mobility. So while the poor may be able to access education up to a certain level, they are unable to move out of chronic poverty and therefore they continue to remain vulnerable.

In Lebanon, an understanding of social justice is  essential if poverty in the country is to be alleviated rather than allowed to become even more deeply ingrained. As we have seen events unfold across the Middle East in 2011, exclusion, voicelessness and marginalization are the very traits that eventually lead to social upheaval. Bearing this in mind, Lebanon needs to ask exactly what kind of society it wishes to create and just where do the poor fit into the national agenda.

The study was undertaken in partnership with World Vision Lebanon and Canadian Baptist Ministries, and published by  Dar Manhal Al Hayat.