Heavy rainfall devastates refugee camps in Lebanon

Middle East

Storm Norma has caused heavy flooding in parts of Lebanon's Bekaa Valley. Among those most affected have been Syrian refugees.

While the recent storm, Norma, which hit Lebanon last week, disturbed the livelihoods of many people throughout the country, Syrian refugees living in camps in the Bekaa Valley have been among the most affected. The rising water levels and snow that came with Storm Norma have flooded the tents of thousands of Syrian refugee families, forcing them to seek shelter elsewhere.

“The water entered the tent, so I carried the young boys and ran to the neighbours,” said Khaled Shehada, a Syrian refugee in Bekaa. “Then I went back to check the items.”

In one Bekaa Valley camp, the water rose between 30 to 50cm in some areas, with the risk of melting snow from surrounding mountains raising the water levels even more.

Despite this threat, no measures have been taken to protect the camps or the refugees.

According to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) Syrians refugees living near the Litani River, Lebanon’s largest river, have been the most exposed by the weather.

“According to our estimates, there are more than 50,000 refugees at risk because they live on agricultural land or live in unequipped shelters,” said Lisa Bu-Khaled, the spokesperson for the UNHCR in Lebanon.

To make matters worse, massive cuts into the UNHCR’s budget over the past year has resulted in slower response time and less aid being delivered to the refugees.

Local civil society organisations and relief agencies including the Lebanese Red Cross have taken action to transfer many families to nearby shelters. According to a Red Cross official, the organisation was able to help around 100 families living in the Semmaqieh refugee camp in the city of Akkar in Lebanon.

Organisations have also expressed the difficulties that they will be facing in regards to rebuilding after the storm calms.

“After the storm is over, we will face major problems in rebuilding or maintaining the camps,” said Haydar Hammoud, a representative of the Sawa Organisation.

Every year since the start of the Syrian refugee crisis, international organisations have warned of the risks that these refugees face in the winter weather, who often lack proper care.

Despite the increased donor fatigue that countries and individuals have faced since the crises arose, the lives of millions of Syrian refugees in Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan will continue to be at risk if aid is not delivered especially during the winter season.