Save the Children helps rebuild two informal settlements in Bekaa after fierce blazes

Tuesday 18 July 2017

Up to 109 tents were rebuilt at the Bekaa Valley's Bar Elias and Qab Elias informal settlements after an intervention by Save the Children in response to two major fires that broke out earlier this month.

The blazes left two children dead and tens of families displaced. Qab Elias settlement, which hosts nearly 700 people, was reduced to ashes, while in Bar Elias up to 22 tents were completely or partially damaged.

''The last few days have been difficult,'' said father-of-seven Jihad*, who moved to Qab Elias settlement only two months ago. ''We have lost our possessions and documents and were left without a shelter. But we feel lucky we are still alive. We are also happy with the support we received to build the new tent.''

The response by Save the Children, with support from the UNHCR, was one of the quickest, allowing families to complete the construction of the new shelters within 96 hours in Qab Elias and 48 hours in Bar Elias.

Describing the restoration of the Qab Elias settlement, Hussein Abdel Khalek, Save the Children's Shelter Officer, said, ''Our shelter team was on the ground to assess the situation immediately after the incident. We carried out site improvement works to restore the foundation and distributed more than 85 tents for affected families.''

Caused by a gas leak and electrical fault, the fires raised fears about the safety standards at informal settlements, as the proximity of the tents meant that the blaze spread at a dangerous pace before the Civil Defence and emergency workers managed to put it out.

Save the Children's Technical Assistant Muriel Malo, said the new design of the tents ensured there were effective preventive measures in place.

''To avoid any such incidents in the future, there was a study conducted for the restoration of this [Qab Elias] site. The new design allowed two metres of space between tents. We have also distributed fire extinguishers and are delivering awareness sessions about how to react in such events.''

Save the Children is currently chairing a national committee on fire prevention, preparedness and response. Through collaboration with the Lebanese Civil Defence and the UK-based Florian Operation, Save the Children aims to raise awareness and mitigate the risk of fire among communities in Lebanon. A report released earlier this year set out a host of recommendations for fire risk reduction at informal settlements across the country.

The tragic loss of young lives will never be compensated. The assistance has, however, restored some faith for many who have been through yet another devastating experience.


*Name changed for protection.