Winter storms affect 25,000 refugees
Humanitarian actors join forces to respond to harsh winter storms Storms Norma and Myriam hit Lebanon in January 2019, affecting more than 25,600 refugees in 639 informal settlements across the country. Heavy rains, high winds and colder temperatures caused extensive humanitarian needs, with floods, erosions and heavy snow, particularly in the Bekaa. In response, humanitarian partners rapidly assisted around 20,000 people through an extreme weather response coordinated by the interagency with the Ministry of Social Affairs. NGOs, key ministries, UN agencies, municipalities, and governors’ offices joined efforts to provide affected and at-risk people with assistance.
The response was made even more complex because the most vulnerable informal settlements are in floodplains, making the response more difficult. During Humanitarian Coordinator Philippe Lazzarini’s visit to the village of Bar Elias in the Bekaa valley, one of the most impacted informal settlement, Ahmad, a Syrian refugee, told how pumping water out of the tents in the camp was a major challenge and the refugees had to wait until the rain stopped to be able to continue drainage work. Humanitarian partners noted the importance of boosting support to the shelter and WASH sectors, which coordinate preparedness activities that will be essential to mitigate the risks of future storms. Refugees relocated as their tents flooded Tented settlements in several areas of the country were very badly affected by the flooding, leading refugees to have to temporarily move to other camps, schools or mosques. Mahmoud relocated with his family from Houch El Harime in the Bekaa to the URDA camp with 16 other families, after several unsuccessful attempts to evacuate water from the sites where they lived. At the URDA camp, Mahmoud said: “we had to relocate as the water was at knee level. My family lost a lot of its belongings after the water flooded our tent. We were given new mattresses and blankets. At least here it is dry, and my kids can be safe”. However, some refugees preferred to stay in sites that were fully flooded and wait until water levels receded, citing fears of not being able to return later.
After the storm, the team working on the emergency response emphasized that it is critical to reduce the exposure and vulnerability of refugees living in non-permanent structures by relocating flood-prone tents to higher levels and using better quality material resilient to extreme weather. Site improvement are set to be further discussed with relevant municipalities and central authorities, and partners will conduct advocacy with donors to support the interventions.