Mashreq Region: Mitigating the poverty impact of COVID-19 on host communities and refugees in Lebanon, Jordan and the KRI

Background and Context

Across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), anecdotally, the protection and poverty impact of COVID-19 on vulnerable people and those living in the economic margins of society appears to be devastating. Among them, refugees, asylum-seekers, IDPs, stateless persons and many other citizens are unable to make ends meet. Many of those who had previously coped without cash assistance are now increasingly desperate, entering further into debt and spiraling into poverty. They face difficult choices such as reducing meals, sharing overcrowded shelters and missing rental payments, leaving them at risk of eviction and other protection concerns.

UNHCR and other partners have been collecting information on the impact of COVID-19 on persons of concern through call-centers and helplines, both by recording requests of refugees who proactively contact UNHCR, and through surveys collected by UNHCR based on representative samples. These initiatives have yielded initial results. However, survey methodologies are primarily defined by country operations, and as a result the sampling strategy and questionnaires or indicators vary from country to country. Although some of the COVID-19 assessments have included host communities, this has not been done systematically, and the understanding of how COVID has impacted host communities and refugees remains very limited.

The World Bank, too, is in the process of collecting information on the impact of COVID-19 through phone surveys, including in countries with large refugee populations, such as Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq. The Bank’s data collection activities are typically executed in collaboration with the National Statistical Office and focus on the population at large. They usually do not include specific strata for vulnerable forcibly displaced populations like refugees.

This activity will focus on two related problems: siloed data that could be of greater use if combined, and a deficit of shared and cohesive insight into the welfare dynamics experienced by displaced and host populations in the region particularly (but not exclusively) as a result of the socioeconomic fallout of COVID-19. The JDC’s support will help continue the past successful collaboration between the UNHCR and World Bank to integrate these specific data sources and provide actionable analysis on poverty among both hosts and refugees to facilitate program design and policy dialogue for both institutions’ efforts in the Middle East and North Africa region.

By bringing together data from both sources, it is feasible to assess the impact of COVID-19 on refugees, forcibly displaced and host communities. Doing so requires developing coherent and comparable methodologies for data collection and analysis. Ideally, this is to be supported with the development and enhancement of integrated and harmonized approaches.

Activity Description

The activity builds on the initial report[1] which estimated the poverty impact of COVID-19 on hosts and refugees in the three countries concerned. In this phase, additional data obtained from phone surveys that became available in early 2021 will be used to (i) update and ground truth the projection models. In addition, these models will reflect (ii) the latest macro-economic projections and information on COVID lockdowns, as well as (iii) newly available information on mitigation measures. The models will (iv) incorporate a number of methodological improvements (such as shock randomization). The updated model will subsequently be used (v) to estimate the cost of a complete mitigation effort, (vi) assess the characteristics of the most vulnerable households and (vii) analyze the poverty efficiency of ongoing mitigation efforts.

In parallel, the team will work with the UNHCR office in Aman to offer technical assistance to the 2021 Vulnerability Assessment Framework (VAF) survey, in particular advising on sampling and questionnaire design with the objective of improving targeting Proxy Means Testing (PMT) models to be used. These PMT models will be updated and developed such that they can be used with UNHCR registration data.

Overall objectives

The primary objective is to assess changes in the socio-economic welfare since COVID-19 on Syrian refugees in the Mashreq. The expected outcome is the promotion through evidence of inclusive (refugees, displaced people & host communities), welfare enhancing national policies and international aid organizations’ assistance.

A secondary objective is to lay the foundation for a longer-term, in-depth collaboration, between the UNHCR regional and country offices in the Mashreq region and the World Bank MENA Poverty and Equity Global Practice.

Engagement with partners

The World Bank will collaborate closely with the UNHCR regional office, as well as with the UNHCR Amman office (on the Vulnerability Assessment Framework (VAF) survey). And, technical consultations with the relevant authorities in Lebanon, Jordan and the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI) will be held once preliminary, updated poverty estimates are ready.


For further details on this activity, please contact:


[1] See the Joint World Bank-UNHCR report, funded by the JDC, “Compounding misfortunes – Changes in Poverty since the onset of COVID-19 on Syrian Refugees and Host Communities in Jordan, the Kurdistan Region of Iraq and Lebanon”. Using simulations based on data from Syrian Refugees and Host Community Surveys in 2016, it estimates that the impact on poverty levels since the onset of the pandemic is very significant, with some 1.7 million hosts and 840,000 refugees in Lebanon alone having fallen below the international poverty line.

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