In the midst of a harsh winter season — one of the harshest winter seasons in twenty five years, as the conflict in Syria continues, the number of Syrian refugees continues to escalate in Lebanon. In the second week of January alone 5,400 new Syrian refugees registered with UNHCR in Lebanon. Lebanon is now hosting the largest number of Syrian refugees, which has grown to almost 200,000-registered refugee. HCI’s needs assessment have so far reached more then 40,000 refugee in need — the majority of them are on the waiting list pending availability of funds. Exhausted from the ordeals that drove them to flee from their homes, and often lacking the most basic of resources, these refugees struggle to survive is rife with hardship, even during the warm summer months. Now, in deepest January as the entire region is battered by deadly winter storms, their fight for survival is all the more precarious especially those living in flimsy tents and makeshift homes with no fire or heating equipment and no support. The harsh cold weather has already claimed the lives of several infants. Many have resorted to the streets to look for paperboard to be used for fire or for portion of food to be shared with the large family — many of them are children and infants. Several cases of suicides have been documented in the past few weeks.
The vast majority of Syrians who have fled to Lebanon are now “urban refugees”, a term designating refugees who settle in an urban area of the country rather than in a camp-based settlement. Urban refugees are among the most vulnerable groups in low-income countries, many crowd into small rented rooms and apartments in disrepair or schools and other spaces provided by host governments. Others squat in unused spaces in poor districts that lack the capacity to assist them. Many refugees arrive with war wounds and illnesses, yet struggle to access health care. Most flee with few belongings and little money, have seen their finances dwindle and can no longer afford food, clothing and other basics. Unable to work legally in most host countries, many have taken loans and are in deepening debt.
As Lebanon recovers from one of the strongest winter storms in twenty five years, HCI and its partners are doubling their efforts to bring much needed shelter support to the most vulnerable families as part of the ongoing Syrian refugee assistance program in Lebanon. The violent storm that struck just before mid January resulted in multiple deaths and injuries, including claiming the lives of several children refugees. Power lines were downed in various parts of the country, leaving thousands without electricity. Floods and mudslides led to the collapse of several structures and roads nationwide, entire villages in south Lebanon were isolated, villages in the north reported gasoline and flour shortages. Motorists and villagers in remote areas of the country were left stranded, waiting for bulldozers to plow through the heavy snow. Crops and agriculture installations across the country were destroyed and thousands of livestock birds died during the storm.
HCI had been offering relief to the families most in need for several months before the storm. At the offset we developed an in-depth family-level needs assessment platform especially for this campaign and its anticipated large-scale yet tailored intervention. Vulnerability criteria were developed for this purpose which include family income; productivity and employability of family members; vulnerability of family members; priority expenditure; health conditions/needs; schooling needs; access to relief support; availability of skills and assets; housing conditions; support groups; etc. This platform has been developed and tested by HCI tested in similar conditions especially in an urban refugee context in the Middle East, such as our work with Iraqi refugees in Jordan.
Based on the needs assessments, an intervention plan was drafted taking in consideration the priority of needs, availability and feasibility of the support, and available funds to provide such support. Such approach is a tailored approach as opposed to a “one size fits all” approach. By the end of September 2012 our needs assessments outreach had encompassed over 6000 refugees nationwide, and our needs assessments have reached more then 40,000 refugees to this date, with single mother headed families, the elderly, people with special needs, infants and children being the priority recipients of HCI’s aid. The main bulk of our work so far has been in the North, the Bekaa valley and in the Palestinian refugee camp of Shatila in Beirut.
At the offset, our intervention was centered around meeting immediate needs for newborn children and dependent others, such as providing formula and diapers, distributing life saving chronic disease medication, providing essential food and non food items such as hygiene kits, accessibility items, and bedding, encouraging environmental health, personal hygiene, and sanitary living conditions among others. As winter approached, HCI shifted its priority more towards offering blankets, winter clothing and shelter support. With the advent of the mid January winter storm, temperatures reached freezing point, bringing new difficulties to thousands of refugees, covering numerous parts of the country in snow and causing flooding in a number of tented settlements in the Bekaa Valley and in other parts of the country.
“We’ve never suffered like this before; it has been so cold and windy that we haven’t been able to sleep” Umm Essam, a single mother of three from Syria told us at one of HCI’s blanket distribution centers in the Bekaa area where the deadly cold has already claimed the life of a young child. In addition to blankets HCI has been distributing bread, bedding materials and life saving children’s winter clothes while working in coordination with local groups, other relief agencies and village councils.
Abu Khaled is one of the many Syrian refugees that has been living in extreme poverty in the Bekaa valley, a small hut is what he and his family call home, for several months, “we’re living without electricity, without water, without anything” Abu Khaled told us as we provided his shelter with insulation material “With this harsh weather I was afraid we would freeze to death”. In addition to the insulating material, HCI also made sure to provide Abu Khaled with extra blankets and provided his children with warm winter hats and scarves.
Thousands of similar cases have been supported by HCI to this date, but ten of thousands are still on the waiting list pending the availability of funds. That is why we are making this special appeal for help.
HCI follows a strict monitoring and evaluation system, which involves more than one long-term partner organization. Some of these partners provide supervision from within; others offer logistical support while others are responsible for designing and assisting in the implementation of HCI’s projects. Thus, transparency and accountability are ensured through a complex multi-level monitoring and supervision system. HCI only choose partners that have been thoroughly scrutinized, monitored, evaluated and verified in meeting our strict criteria. We value the support of our donors and every effort is made to make sure that every penny you donate goes to those who need it the most.
(Note: real names were changed to protect the privacy of the people involved)