Gearing up for the Winter

Monday 1 December 2014

Lebanon has already witnessed two storms in the beginning of winter 2014. Storm Misha greeted the country with massive bolts of lightning and a rapid decrease in temperature, followed by storm Nancy’s heavy rain that fell across the country and snowfall that covered high altitude areas.

Despite its Mediterranean location, Lebanon’s mountainous terrain leaves it exposed to harsh winters. For example, the Bekaa Valley in eastern Lebanon which includes Save The Children’s largest field base in the country, experiences very heavy rain, continuous snowfall and regular drops in temperature plummeting below 0 degrees centigrade.

As a result, vulnerable families living in sub-standard shelter will face increased health risks due to their unprotected exposure to relentless rain, snow and wind. Many children sleep on wet beds, in damp clothes and under leaking roofs, lacking adequate clothing or bedding. These conditions cause serious and potentially fatal respiratory illnesses as well as hypothermia and frostbite. According to the UNHCR’s recent health update, acute respiratory tract infections were the leading cause of morbidity amongst Syrian refugees, 40% of whom were children under 5.

Like thousands of other refugee families who had to endure the damp and icy-cold weather last winter, Laila, 25, and mother of three said, “my children and I are living in a cowshed, sleeping under a leaking roof and surrounded by useless walls that can’t protect us from the freezing weather”. Fearing for her children’s health and safety, Laila continued: “if we build a fire inside, we will die from inhaling all the smoke; and if we build a fire outside, we will die from the cold”.

During winter 2013, Save the Children’s winterisation campaign had reached more than 90 per cent of its targeted families before snowstorm Alexa caused havoc in the northern and eastern Bekaa regions. The campaign helped 13,000 families through shelter support, cash assistance and blanket distribution to over 22,000 children, making it the single biggest provider of emergency shelter support in Lebanon.

(click the image to view photoessay on shelter kit distribution in Bekaa)

As part of its winter strategy this year, Save The Children is providing emergency shelter assistance to 15,300 families in Bekaa and Akkar. Our team provides life-saving protection from the freezing cold, which reduces health risks for over 76,500 people, including more than 45,000 children. Save The Children is well on track to go beyond these targets and has already assisted around 8,000 families, including 20,000 children.

The shelter team is providing weather-proofing support in informal settlements and sub-standard buildings (e.g. unfinished houses, converted garages and farm buildings). This will improve physical protection from cold and wet weather and assist households that are prone to water-logging or flooding, whilst also improving access to safe water, sanitation and hygiene. Informal settlements are also subject to the floor-raising project that allows families to raise their sleeping area in order to create a dry and warmer atmosphere.

Save The Children is supplementing the shelter intervention with multi-purpose cash assistance via vouchers throughout the winter. Vouchers will be used for purchasing children’s winter clothing and fuel. As part of its winter campaign, Save The Children is distributing non-food items such as mattresses, blankets and stoves.

(click image to view photoessay on shelter kit and non-food items distribution in Akkar)

“As the Syrian crisis approaches its fourth winter, many people are in desperate need of assistance and conditions are getting worse for many people. Our team’s compassion and dedication to their work has been truly incredible. They are working in cold and wet conditions in order to reduce suffering this winter as much as possible. However, despite this, we are always looking for ways to do more” – Thomas Whitworth, Save The Children Lebanon’s shelter and non-food items advisor.