Refugees brace for more harsh weather

Lebanon, Syria

February 17, 2015

Share this story:
  • linkedin
  • Syrian refugees living in the Bekaa valley in Lebanon have already endured a huge snowstorm, but more severe weather is on its way. All photos: Chantal Mortada/Mercy Corps

This winter has already been tough for Syrian refugees, and it’s about to get even worse. Refugee families have been struggling throughout the Middle East to survive and stay warm as brutal winter weather hovers over the region.

In Lebanon, freezing temperatures and a recent snowstorm have wreaked havoc on the makeshift settlements that many Syrians are living in. This week, more snow and rain is expected to hit the area, making conditions even more difficult.


Small children are especially vulnerable during winter. At the settlements, there is no safe place to play.

Our team visited temporary tent villages in the Bekaa valley to speak with refugees about what life is like there, and to determine how Mercy Corps can best address their urgent needs.

“We never see these kind of storms, with three feet of snow,” says Program Manager Ghassan Wehbe. Refugee families living in the Bekaa valley are unprepared to deal with such severe weather. “They don’t have winter clothes. Most of them wear sandals because they don’t have boots for the winter.”


Most refugees do not have warm winter clothing or protective boots to help them stay safe and healthy.

Without any electricity, the only way for families in tents to stay warm is to use gas heaters, which require fuel canisters to run. The tents, some donated by organizations and some made by hand, are the only thing protecting people from the elements. They are small and cramped, each one holding 10 to 12 people.

“The conditions are very bad, especially after the storm,” says Wehbe. “People are very cold and most of them are telling us that they don’t have heaters and they don’t have fuel.”


A man shovels snow away from a makeshift tent. When the snow melts, it can cause damaging flooding.

Families risk losing their shelter altogether when the winds arrive. “In a small wind, the tents will just fly,” says Maher Shehadeh, a Communications Manager on the Lebanon team. “People feel like they are living on the street. They need equipment to make the tents work.”

Syrian refugee children are among the most vulnerable during the winter, especially in the Bekaa valley settlements. The tents are set up close together and there is snow everywhere you look. “The children especially need good shoes so they can move around and survive winter,” says Shehadeh. “There is no safe place for them to play.”


Two little girls brave the deep snow in the temporary tent settlement where they live.

Abdullah, 10, is just one of the children trying to make it through another winter away from home. “The winter in our camp is so tough and cold,” he says. “It’s more freezing at night especially because I do not have winter clothes.”

16-year-old Ezz is facing similar struggles in the camp. “As you can see, this place is not for human beings. It’s freezing,” he says. “I don’t have winter shoes — I use slippers to go out and my legs freeze.”


The thin tents in the settlement offer little protection from the harsh wind, rain and snow this region has seen.


To survive winter, refugees living in camps like these need heaters, fuel, warm clothing and winter boots.

With dropping temperatures and more snow on its way this week, refugees like Abdullah and Ezz will have a hard time staying warm. Even when the snow eventually melts, small tented camps like the one that these young boys live in will have to deal with flooding and mud.

Our team is working in Lebanon to give refugees the supplies they need to stay safe and warm during the winter. But more needs to be done. We are looking for new ways to reach more people in makeshift camps like those in the Bekaa valley with heaters, warm clothing and supplies.

How you can help