Severe storm and freezing temperatures stress refugees' urgent winter needs

Lebanon, Syria

December 18, 2013

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  <span class="field-credit">
    Mohammad Salhab/Mercy Corps  </span>
    Extreme winter weather in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley has made already-dismal living conditions for Syrian refugees even worse. Most families fled Syria without warm clothing, and meager tents and shelters lack heat, leaving them extremely vulnerable to the record subzero temperatures. Photo: Mohammad Salhab/Mercy Corps
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  <span class="field-credit">
    Mercy Corps  </span>
    Most refugee families in the Bekaa Valley live in makeshift tent settlements that provide little protection from this winter's harsh conditions. These tents in the border town of Arsal could not withstand the area's recent snowfall. Photo: Mercy Corps
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  <span class="field-credit">
    Mercy Corps  </span>
    We're distributing winterization kits that include heaters, jerry cans and vouchers for fuel, thanks to funding from the Canadian government. Photo: Mercy Corps
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  <span class="field-credit">
    Mercy Corps  </span>
    Blankets will also provide additional warmth and protection through the winter. In all, 500 families in and around Arsal are being reached with distributions. Photo: Mercy Corps

Severe winter weather — the worst in 100 years — hit Lebanon last week with snow, freezing temperatures and high winds, exacerbating already poor living conditions for Syrians taking refuge there.

We’re providing winterization kits and warm clothing in eastern Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley, where record temperatures reached as low as 14 degrees below Celsius.

The Bekaa Valley recently experienced a sudden heavy influx of refugees when the Syrian civil war spread to strategic towns along the northeastern border of Lebanon. Around 7,000 families fled the Qalamoun mountains last month alone to seek safety in the Lebanese border town of Arsal.

Already scarce shelter, sanitation, food and water are not enough to provide for the surge in refugees — and the latest winter storm has made conditions even more dire.

Without government refugee camps, most families live in abandoned buildings or makeshift tents built from scavenged wood or discarded plastic sheeting. There is no heat or protection from the subzero temperatures.

And because they fled for safety without any of their belongings, they don’t have warm clothing — or even shoes — to protect them from exposure.

“These are very bad conditions,” said Ghassan Wehbe, Mercy Corps Area Manager in Lebanon. “Children are freezing from the cold, but their families don’t have any winter necessities like stoves or fuel to keep their children warm.”

We’re providing winterization kits to 500 of those families in and around Arsal, with support from the Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development. The kits contain lifesaving items like heaters, blankets, jerry cans for fuel and enough fuel vouchers for three months.

And in partnership with UNICEF we’re providing 4,000 families in North Bekaa and Baalbeck with vouchers to buy jackets and warm clothing for their children, who are particularly vulnerable to the frigid temperatures.

“People are suffering in these conditions,” Ghassan added. “We are moving very fast to help them.”

How you can help

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