Storm damages Lebanon’s refugee camps

Lebanon has been experiencing heavy rainfall, snowfall and intense winds as storm Joyce hit earlier this week on Tuesday, February 16.

The storm culminated on Wednesday, with snowfall descending on the country’s high peaks and Beirut experiencing heavy hail throughout the day. As per the Rafik Hariri International Airport Meteorological department, sea levels also rose and winds recorded a speed of more than 70 kilometres per hour.

On Wednesday, the country’s Traffic Management Centre asked residents not to park their cars near trees or billboards due to the volatile weather. Authorities also warned residents against driving, especially in high-altitude areas where the roads are more likely to freeze under the snow.

With the storm still etching its way across the country, Lebanon’s refugee camps are expected to suffer greatly under the weather due to poor infrastructure and lack of governmental aid.

This morning, UNHCR Lebanon reported that Syrian refugees in the Saadnayel camp in the Bekaa Valley awoke to harsh snowfall, blanketing the area and damaging many tents and makeshift settlements.

Refugee camps across the country are known to be poorly equipped and incapable of withstanding harsh weather conditions.

Winter is harsh for refugees, especially during an economic crisis

The ongoing financial and economic crisis has touched upon every area of life, including real estate. Rent rates have soared over the past few months, making affordable housing a luxury, forcing many to seek temporary settlements for housing. Many refugees have also struggled to provide essential services such as food and clean water to their families. 

As a result, 89% of the Syrian refugee population now lives below the extreme poverty line as per a study conducted by the UN.

In January, Human Rights Watch (HRW) released a report describing the dire living conditions of Syrian refugees in the border town of Arsal, stating that they “do not have adequate shelters to withstand the harsh winter months.”

The report stated that HRW researchers interviewed seven refugees who “described harsh weather conditions and inadequate building materials.”

Some stated that as a result of the heavy rainfall and flooding, mould had begun to form on the wood used to build their shelters, endangering their makeshift homes and exposing them to an array of health problems. 

Lebanese law prevents refugees from building sturdier homes

Thanks to the help of a few NGOs, the Arsal refugees were then given tarps to cover the rest of their roof but had to largely rely on gathering and purchasing new materials themselves. The economic crisis has led to the rise of inflation, making many of these materials unaffordable for many, especially Lebanon’s most vulnerable. 

In 2019, the Higher Defense Council released an order requiring the refugees of Arsal to dismantle their shelters. According to HRW, the order is based on the Lebanese Construction Law. 

The Lebanese Construction Law stipulates that “non-permanent” building materials are to be used in temporary settlements, such as wood, stone and canvas in contrast to heavier and sturdier materials such as concrete and cement. 

The law, in essence, asserts that refugee camps remain ill-equipped. With the heavy-hitting storm at hand, this is a recipe for catastrophic living conditions that endanger the lives of many. 

A joint effort between the Lebanese government and local and international partners to oversee the needs of vulnerable populations in Lebanon states that “groups providing shelter need roughly US $155.6 million” as per HRW. So far, they have only been able to garner $27 million. 

At the present time, refugee settlements and camps have been left to fend for themselves. Today is predicted to be the coldest day of the year, with snow spreading to areas of lower altitude.