New Crisis Threatens Refugees in Lebanon

Vulnerable families face extreme winter temperatures without adequate shelter and clothing
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Severe winter weather threatens the lives of Syrian refugee children like the ones pictured. Photo: F. Seriex

(December 7, 2015) –New York-- Action Against Hunger warns that the suffering of more than a half million Syrian refugees in Lebanon could increase with the onset of winter. Last year, winter storms and floods caused serious damage to thousands of shelters—and put the lives of vulnerable children living outdoors in tents at serious risk.

Our team in Lebanon is taking action now to provide the most vulnerable families in the Bekaa Valley with blankets, mattresses, heating fuel, stoves, equipment to repair tents, flood mitigation kits, and even clothing if necessary to help them weather the harsh winter.

Abu Talal and his family are facing their fourth year living in Lebanon as refugees. Originally from the town of Raqqa in Syria, they fled the war in 2012, enduring many hardships. "Last year, the winter was very hard. There were snowstorms and floods, and we had no fuel for heating," says Talal. This year, he says he and his wife have been collecting whatever bits of wood they are able to find and storing it in small bags in their shelter. Other families are not as prepared. Rui Oliveira, Action Against Hunger’s Country Director in Lebanon says, "Many Syrian refugees are at risk. They lack some of the most basic resources and household items to help them cope with the extreme temperatures that lie ahead."

To understand the most urgent needs of refugee families, we conducted a "rapid assessment for winter" in more than 370 homes in parts of Lebanon’s northern, central, and western Bekaa Valley.

A Syrian refugee family in Lebanon tries to fix their tent before winter's arrival. Photo: F. Seriex

Oliviera says, "In previous years, exposure to extreme winter temperatures caused hundreds of casualties, especially among children under the age of two and the elderly. Large numbers of tents were damaged by floods or snow. Our teams are racing against the clock to investigate the risks and needs so that we can respond effectively. We anticipate that some areas will need defense against floods and storms."

Winter is the worst time of year for refugees, not only because of the bitter weather, but also because it cuts off sources of income like outdoor labor. During winter, many families are completely dependent on humanitarian assistance to meet their basic survival needs.

When wood runs out, the refugees burn plastic, shoes, and anything else they find so they can boil water for heat and cooking. Photo: F. Seriex

To help them cope, for several years we have been working in partnership with the World Food Program and UNICEF to provide tens of thousands of households in Lebanon with cash assitance transmitted electronically through special cards. This winter, a new PIN will be sent to many recipients, starting with a group of 330 families, so they can get an extra amount of money to cover unforeseen expenses.

Action Against Hunger has been working in Lebanon since 2006 to deliver humanitarian assistance to Syrian refugees and local “host” communities. We work to meet the most urgent needs of people affected by crisis through programs in food security and livelihoods; water, sanitation and hygiene; and psychosocial support and mental health.

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Action Against Hunger is a global humanitarian organization that takes decisive action against the causes and effects of hunger. We save the lives of malnourished children. We ensure families can access clean water, food, training, and health care. We enable entire communities to be free from hunger.