Syrian Crisis

Syrian refugees in Lebanon brace against the coming winter

Syrian refugee children talk about living in Bekaa Valley, Lebanon, now that winter has come.  Download this video

 

By Salam Abdulmunem

As winter hits Bekaa Valley, Lebanon, UNICEF and partners are delivering supplies, care and warmth to as many families as possible – but the recent, first storm of the season is only the beginning.

BEKAA VALLEY, Lebanon, 19 December 2013 – Storm ‘Alexa’ brought snow, rain, high wind speeds and sub-zero temperatures to the Middle East. In Lebanon, the Bekaa Valley has been one of the areas hit hardest.

As of 16 December, this valley in the east hosted 276,863 of the 845,858 registered and unregistered Syrian refugees who have fled to Lebanon. 

Preparing for the winter

The road to Bekaa Valley passes through mountains freshly covered with snow. The immense valley, itself, is overhung by a low, white blanket of clouds.

UNICEF Image
© UNICEF Video
Storm ‘Alexa’ brought snow, rain, high wind speeds and sub-zero temperatures to the Middle East. In Lebanon, the Bekaa Valley – hosting 276,863 refugees from the Syrian Arab Republic – has been one of the areas hit hardest.

Under these clouds, tens of thousands of refugee families have had to set up shelter in flimsy tents on agricultural land that turns muddy with the slightest rain. Others have found shelter in abandoned buildings, garages or unfinished structures. These makeshift shelters might have been adequate in the summer, but they cannot protect families from the cold and heavy rain.

Since months before Alexa hit, UNICEF and partners have worked to pre-position essential supplies closer to where they will be needed. Almost 75,000 winter kits containing warm clothes, gloves, scarves and boots have been sent to partners for delivery to children. Another 13,000 children will receive winter kits before the end of 2013 – all in addition to the 65,000 children who will receive vouchers to buy warm clothes.

Bringing clinics closer

The dangers that winter brings aren’t kept at bay with warm clothes alone. Exposure to cold puts added strain on the health of children who are already struggling to survive and stay healthy, and who will now be exposed to acute respiratory infections that pose an additional threat to their survival.

Since the storm started and temperatures began dropping, mothers in tent settlements have told UNICEF staff and partners on the ground that they are worried for their children. They have not been able to bring ill children to health clinics as the roads have been snowed under, and it is too cold to walk long distances.

UNICEF Image
© UNICEF Video
UNICEF’s partner Beyond Association, with support from the Ministry of Public Health, mobilized medical teams to go areas hit hardest by the storm, where conditions prevented families from bringing their ill children to health clinics.

The only solution: Bring the clinics to them.

As soon as news of closed roads started coming from the areas hit hardest by the storm, UNICEF’s partner Beyond Association, with support from the Ministry of Public Health, started mobilizing two medical teams to go from tent to tent in those areas. Beyond Association’s volunteers waded through the mud and snow to ask families if anyone needed medical attention. Doctors examined children and dispensed medication for respiratory tract infections and diarrhoeal diseases.

Keeping children warm

UNICEF’s representative in Lebanon Annamaria Laurini visited the Faida informal settlement on the day the roads to Bekaa Valley reopened. Ms. Laurini accompanied the medical teams on their tent-to-tent visits. She talked to 9-year-old Ali, who stood outside his tent. Shivering in clothes that were clearly not warm enough, Ali told her that his family had run out of wood for heating two days earlier.

“We huddle together under blankets to keep warm,” said Ali. “It has been snowing for four days, but my father can’t buy more wood for the stove.”

Mothers in many of the hardest-hit settlements have been pleading for their children to be kept warm, as they run out of wood and fuel for heating. To keep children like Ali warm, Beyond Association, with support from UNICEF, set up large, well-heated tents to help them get through the worst of the storm.

“We all know this is only the beginning of a very difficult season ahead,’’ said Ms. Laurini. “Having fled violence in their home country, these children now need us to protect them from the bitter cold of this winter.”


 

 

UNICEF Photography: Syrian crisis

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