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Cash for Work: A meso-level impact analysis

28 July 2022 — By Oxfam

The multifaced compounding crises taking place in Lebanon since late 2019 have led to an increase in poverty and a significant reduction of income-generating and employment opportunities for both Lebanese and non-Lebanese residents. The crisis has had a dramatic impact on economic activities with GDP shrinking by an extra 10.5% in 2021 on top of a 21.4% decline in 2020. In everyday life, this figure translates into extensive downsizing and closure of businesses, limited work possibilities, and households experiencing increased difficulties in meeting basic needs, including food. The 2022 Lebanese Crisis Response Plan (LCRP) estimated that as of last year, 3 million people required basic needs assistance, and nearly a quarter-million people commanded livelihood support. According to the UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty, 77% of households reported not having enough food or money to buy food, and 60% reported purchasing food on credit or borrowing money – with “many households having been forced to reduce the quantity of the food they consume”.

In response to the dramatic degradation of living conditions among host and refugee communities, cash assistance programmes were intensified as of 2020. The beneficiary base was significantly extended with more Syrian refugees receiving cash for food and Multipurpose Cash Assistance (MPCA) and with the introduction of similar programmes directed at the Lebanese population – such as the World Bank financed Emergency Social Safety Net (ESSN) programme and the expected ration cards. The intensification of cash assistance programmes also included Cash for Work (CfW) interventions that now target both the Lebanese and Syrian populations. Furthermore, the economic collapse and lack of investment capacity triggered the implementation of Employment Intensive Investment Programmes (EIIP), similar to CfW in many aspects.
Both CfW and EIIP approaches hire workers for an average of 40 days per assignment, thereby providing individual beneficiaries with short-term employment opportunities and, to a certain extent, contributing to the transfer of skills improving long-term employability. However, CfW programmes are primarily devised as tools to deliver humanitarian aid and support local authorities with the provision of key basic services such as waste management and roads rehabilitation or cleaning, while EIIP are anchored toward long term local economic development (LED) through plans to rehabilitate or construct productive assets e.g. agricultural roads, lightening systems or water tanks. Still, both CfW programmes and EIIP are expected to contribute to social stability. Given the economic roots of Lebanon’s persistent humanitarian crisis, CfW programmes are increasingly conceptualized as EIIP interventions and can constitute foundational blocks of a strategy that aims to strengthen the humanitarian-development-peace nexus towards a people-centred approach that factors in short and long-term perspectives to address the drivers of fragility and conflict.

Against that background, the present paper prepared by the EU-funded Economic Development Policy Unit looks at the limitations and potential of CfW and EIIP initiatives from the perspective of practitioners, experts, local authorities and businesses collected through six Key Informant Interviews with local and international organizations and four Focus Group Discussions with municipalities and enterprises. Complemented by a rapid literature review tapping into the scarce body of evidence on CfW in Lebanon, this research led to the formulation of programme and policy recommendations to further improve project impact on local communities and their development.