BEKAA VALLEY, Lebanon – As strong winds buffeted their tent and rain turned the surrounding land in this highland valley to mud, Syrian refugee Mohammed’s wife went into labour.
“I had to carry my wife all the way from here under the rain so she could deliver (at the hospital). We came back and I was holding my baby to my chest and covering him with a blanket,” says Mohammed of his newborn son, Dayf-allah.
Originally from Deir al-Zor, the proud father of three is among thousands of refugees struggling as harsh winter weather blows in across Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley. A few kilometres away, Fatima, a Syrian refugee from Aleppo, and her family battle to keep warm.
“Yesterday, when the rain and the storm came, we couldn’t warm ourselves all night. We all had four blankets on us and we still couldn’t get warm. The cold wind was coming from under the tent,” she says.
Fatima cares for her frail 80-year-old father whose chronic medical conditions and disability make him particularly vulnerable to the winter weather.
“My father has diabetes and he’s now coughing. The toilets are far for him to reach. When it rains, we cover him with blankets and take him to the toilets and bring him back.”
There are just over one million Syrian refugees in Lebanon. One-in-two live in substandard shelters like tents, garages, warehouses, unfinished buildings, and animal sheds. They require continuous support to maintain their shelters, especially during winter, which can be bitter and long in Lebanon.
More rain and snowstorms are forecast for the coming weeks. Some high-altitude towns in the Bekaa Valley and northern Lebanon have already been blanketed in snow.
“Of course I am scared for my newborn son, I have to keep him warm,” says Mohammed whose main concern now is making sure Dayf-allah is safe and secure through the winter.
As temperatures fall across the Middle East, UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, is providing lifesaving assistance needed to help 4.6 million refugees, internally displaced people and vulnerable host communities across the region survive the winter.
In Lebanon, UNHCR’s winter programme is providing aid to some 850,000 people in need. It includes cash assistance from November to March – to enable families in need to buy fuel and other winter essentials – in addition to the distribution of blankets, stoves and materials to weatherproof their fragile shelters.
“The most destitute population in Lebanon often have to resort to negative coping strategies to survive on the little resources they have. They cut down on meals, they stop proper treatment for health issues, and they borrow money to meet their expenses,” said Mireille Girard, UNHCR’s country representative.
“Our focus is to provide enough winter assistance to spare refugees and Lebanese families from having to make these inhumane choices”, she added.
The UN Refugee Agency has launched a public appeal for donations to its winter programmes, to provide refugees and vulnerable host communities with essential items to survive the cold season.
“We know from experience that temperatures will fall below freezing and that underprivileged Lebanese families and close to one million refugees in Lebanon will need our help to stay warm,” said Girard. “Any contributions from individuals who are able to help can make a big difference.”