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Cash for Work in Southern Lebanon – ACF Lebanon’s response to the Syrian refugee crisis

After the start of the Syria Crisis, Action Against Hunger (ACF) Lebanon (a branch of ACF Spain) expanded its programmes throughout the Bekaa Valley and Southern Lebanon, working to support Water Sanitation and Hygiene Promotion (WaSH), Food Security & Livelihoods and Nutrition activities, focusing on complex geographic areas where low income Lebanese families have had to handle a greater refugee influx, the numbers of which has often exceeded the local population.

Since January 2014, ACF Lebanon has implemented a Cash for Work intervention (CfW) in three districts of Southern Lebanon under different patronage (ECHO; SIDA). The objective was to reduce the negative coping mechanisms of the target population (Syrian refugees and vulnerable Lebanese households), and reinforce the local capacity to deliver community services through municipalities involved in the project, ultimately diminishing the pressure on local infrastructures.

Photo: ACF's cash for work programme in Southern Lebanon, 2014. Credit: ACF / Iñaki Sainz de Rozas Pertejo

ACF’s approach on CfW in South Lebanon is in line with the “2105-16 Lebanon Crisis Response Plan (LRCP)” developed by UNDP and the Government of Lebanon. The plan intends to strengthen the links between the international humanitarian aid to those displaced by the conflict and Lebanon’s national stability.

In Southern Lebanon, Syrian refugees frequently rent apartments, unfinished buildings or other living spaces in the villages and towns that they arrive in. Hence, the Syrian refugee population has spread out across the region, which makes them more visible to host communities. Although this might be seen as a risk for both communities, it also opens new opportunities for improved integration if well managed and supported, eventually ensuring the refugees’ right of freedom of movement in the host country and promoting acceptance from host communities.

However, the arrival of the Syrian refugee population has burdened the already overwhelmed community services of the host municipalities from Southern Lebanon, including public health, education, social structures and access to basic goods. A view expressed by one municipality that seemed to summarise the view felt by all was: “If before the Syria crisis, we did not have enough field personnel to attend the needs of our Lebanese households, imagine what our situation is now, upon the arrival of the refugees”. Therefore, ACF Lebanon coordinated with the municipalities to create a new approach using CfW to tackle both the refugees’ vulnerability and to reinforce the quality and range of community services delivered by the municipalities where the target refugees have settled.

ACF’s criteria for selecting municipalities is based on the number of Syrian refugees present and the number of vulnerable host families in each village, as well as the capacity of the local infrastructure to tackle the influx and the authorities’ will and ability to monitor appropriately  CfW activities.

This approach was developed in close coordination with the municipalities who designed the services to be provided and activities to be implemented according to their needs. ACF Lebanon’s role was to ensure alignment with best CfW practice, to define guidelines and guarantee that legal requirements were met. After agreeing the activities and model, ACF Lebanon and the municipality advertised the CfW program launch, using public spaces, shops and visible sites where target populations gathered.

To begin, interested candidates submitted an application to ACF Lebanon. Subsequently, a household vulnerability assessment was conducted with all applicants to select those that matched the defined vulnerability selection criteria. ACF Lebanon’s methodology considered a ratio of 70% - 30% (Syrian refugees and host vulnerable households respectively), to deliver assistance to a majority of vulnerable Syrian refugees whose needs were not covered , and to promote the participation of Lebanese host families whose vulnerability was exacerbated by the impact of the Syria crisis in Lebanon. Identification of the most vulnerable families from the host community was achieved in close coordination with the local authorities.

Participation of beneficiaries was in line with the local labor regulation for unskilled workers, and beneficiaries participated in rounds of 3 months of field work, 10 days per month. Payment of beneficiaries was delivered through previously distributed ATM cards from a local bank. Beneficiaries were paid on a monthly basis as per the number of days worked, with a maximum of 10 days and a minimum of 7 days per month. The use of ATM cards made the release of funds to beneficiaries faster and safer, though it proved difficult to record the types of expenditure (for a deeper analysis of the monthly expenditure) due to the inability of the cards to be used at the local market.

Field activities were reinforced through the distribution of working tools and safety clothes as per the type of task assigned. This distribution of assets was carried out by a local insurance company who were contracted to cover any physical mishap that may occur during the implementation of field activities. ACF Lebanon looked to safeguard the physical and emotional integrity of beneficiaries during  implementation, and avoid causing further expenses to the already exhausted budget of the target families.

Photo: ACF's cash for work programme in Southern Lebanon, 2014. Credit: ACF / Iñaki Sainz de Rozas Pertejo

In the implementation phase, ACF Lebanon field staff were deployed to supervise activities, including daily monitoring at the field level, biweekly meetings with beneficiaries, and final monthly evaluation through Focus Group Discussions. Monitoring was complemented by a beneficiary feedback mechanism in order to collect, in a safe manner, any complaint or observation made by the beneficiaries.

An impact evaluation found that funds distrbuted as part of the CfW covered 50% of the monthly expenses of the targeted households, thus contributing to reduce the different negative copping strategies adopted by the refugee population in order to deal with their challenging condition.

Vocational trainings, income generating activities and unconditional cash grants

In order to support applicants whose vulnerability met the criteria but could not participate in the CfW activities due to physical impairment, family responsibility or logistical challenges, ACF Lebanon included two additional levels of assistance: vocational training to support income generating activities and unconditional cash grants. In the first approach, ACF Lebanon implemented culturally adapted self-reliance activities, mostly with women, in order to reinforce their resilience tools and support the family income, without constraining their cultural customs. This comprised of skills based training to participants, and the delivery of livelihood assets in order to improve their home-based livelihoods. The unconditional cash component was assumed to cover exceptional cases where participants could not fit into previous activities, nor into other programmes due to their incapacity and degree of vulnerability.

Over the past months, success stories have spread through different regions, and ACF Lebanon received several requests from different local municipalities interested in participating in the programme, which led to increase the number of municipalities from two to six.

In fact, CfW activities promoted a safer environment in a range of different settings. For example: CfW activities helped to create a cleaner and safer environment in public areas like gardens, parks and beaches, especially in tourist spots, like Tyre city, where waste production increased during the summer season. Participation in the maintenance and cleaning of archeological sites helped to protect national heritage (recognized by the Municipality of Tyre during a festival held at the Roman Hippodrome). A role was also played by the CfW beneficiaries on the previous days of the local religious festivities as they actively participated in the maintenance and upkeep of specific community sites to be used for the celebration. These actions were largely recognized, not only by the local authorities but by users of those areas who belong to the host community. As a result, the interventions have produced a reduction in existing tensions within the target areas, as per comments received by the municipalities: “Our will was to help the Syrian refugees. We had some ideas but we did not know what steps to take. Thanks to ACF, we had the chance to do so, and reinforce our municipal services at the same time”.

The main feeling from the refugees who enrolled in the activities was that they would like to take part in a similar process again. As one member expressed: “thanks to the CfW project I could find a regular source of income for 3 months, my role as breadwinner was reinforced and, for a while, I could live in dignity again”.

Moreover, although for a short timeframe, the sustainability of such a participatory approach is achieved by promoting integration of refugees, linkages with communities, social interaction and a sense of wellbeing, which eventually leads to longer forms of collaboration between the two groups.

ACF Lebanon will continue to extend the program in nearby municipalities, covering the needs of Syrian refugees and vulnerable members from the host community, enhancing acceptance, social cohesion and promoting better life standards for both the Syrian and Lebanese people.

For further information, please contact with isainzderozas@lb.acfspain.org

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