Displaced Syrian families prepare for cold winter ahead

Topics: Syria Crisis fund, Middle East and North Africa
December 15, 2014

Lebanese Red Cross blanket distributions to Syrians in Ketermaya.

Two hours before the blanket distribution started, the temperature was two degrees below zero, but many of the children in Zahle – in the Lebanese Beqaa Valley, less than 30 minutes from the Syrian border and 980 metres above the sea level – have only flip flops on their feet. Snow is all around the mountains.

This area is considered safe for refugees from the fighting in Syria and this is why a lot of informal camps are here. More than 1,000 families have sought safety here. In this part of the country, the Lebanese Red Cross takes care of several informal camps. In addition to traditional relief activities, the society is preparing for the hard winter ahead.

A group of Red Cross volunteers work on water transportation despite the storm raging around them. Every two days, 167 families receive clean water, which is a big change for those used to either having a choice between unsafe water or expensive bottled water.

“We are not only bringing water here. We are working on hygiene promotion, flood prevention and relief distribution. In the last days we have also distributed sandbags and we worked on the construction of drains,” explained the local disaster management coordinator.

Firas is a refugee living in the camp with his wife and four children. He said the situation was difficult, and that the winter would be a challenge. “Winter and cold are our main problems now, but we feel safe here,” he said. “We are thankful the Red Cross is taking care of us.”

The changing season has also had an impact on the family’s earnings. “Sometimes we work as daily workers in the farmlands, but during winter it’s obviously impossible. So now we almost don’t have any type of income,” Firas said.

In Abu Latif camp, the winterization efforts are already underway, with volunteers distributing tarpaulins and blankets to families.

Despite the cold, the volunteers make time to talk to the children who play as their parents pick up their items. The talk turns to home, ambitions and the future. “I want to become a doctor to help my people,” said one. “My dream is to return home to go to school,” said a second.

The children and their families say that the Red Cross volunteers provide not just a lifeline, but also the acknowledgement that they matter, that they are not simply figures on a map.

With the onset of winter, many Syrians lack the means to purchase basic winter items that are essential in coping with harsh weather conditions. Canadians who want to help provide urgent life-saving assistance to Syrian families can donate to the Canadian Red Cross Syria Crisis Appeal.

All funds raised will directly support the on-going Red Cross operations in Syria and the region.

By Tommaso Della Longa, IFRC. First published on the IFRC website.
Photo: Tommaso Della Longa/IFRC