Storm dev­as­tates refugee camps

The Weekend Australian - - WORLD - BASSEM MROUE BAR ELIAS AP

Tent en­camp­ments hous­ing thou­sands of Syr­ian refugees looked more like is­lands half sunk in wa­ter.

Women waded knee-deep in muddy wa­ter to move around. Oth­ers pumped wa­ter out of flimsy tents that left mat­tresses soaked and de­stroyed food­stuffs and fur­ni­ture.

A five-day storm that bat­tered Le­banon with heavy rain and snow has had a dev­as­tat­ing ef­fect on thou­sands of refugees liv­ing in tents dot­ting eastern Le­banon’s Bekaa Val­ley, dis­plac­ing many whose shel­ters were flooded or de­stroyed by snow.

“I lost ev­ery­thing in­side,” said Umm Fawaz, stand­ing out­side her tent with wa­ter up to her knees.

She said she had to sleep for five nights on a chair be­cause of the wa­ter.

The UN refugee agency said on Thurs­day that 361 sites that are home to about 11,000 Syr­i­ans have been af­fected.

The storm com­pounds the al­ready mis­er­able con­di­tions of refugee life in Le­banon, which houses the high­est per­cent­age of refugees in the world with nearly one mil­lion, or about a quar­ter of the coun­try’s pop­u­la­tion.

The storm that ended on Wed­nes­day caused wide­spread dam­age across the coun­try, where over­flow­ing rivers killed an eightyear-old Syr­ian girl and dam­aged scores of cars and homes. Moun- tain roads were cut off by heavy snow and power out­ages were com­mon.

On Thurs­day, refugee Alaa Shehadeh, 31, cleaned his tent where he lives with his wife and five chil­dren af­ter knee-high wa­ter was sucked out by a gi­ant tanker. All the food he had stored in­side the tent as well as mat­tresses and blan­kets were dam­aged.

The set­tle­ment where he lives in Bar Elias is on the edge of the Li­tani River, which flooded dur­ing the storm and is home to 420 refugees, in­clud­ing 100 chil­dren. On the first day of the storm, peo­ple fled from one tent to an­other as the wa­ter be­gan to rise.

“Only God’s mercy can save us,” said Shehadeh, whose wife and chil­dren fled dur­ing the storm to a hall in a nearby build­ing that they now share with dozens oth­ers forced out of the set­tle­ment.

In other set­tle­ments nearby, wa­ter was a half-me­tre high and some res­i­dents used float­ing pieces of wood as boats to move from one place to an­other. Chil­dren in thongs waded through the freez­ing wa­ter. On Thurs­day, vol­un­teers pumped wa­ter from refugee set­tle­ments and dis­trib­uted rub­ber boots, blan­kets and win­ter clothes to refugees need­ing help.

The storm dis­rupted school­ing for many refugees, but amid the mis­ery there was a suc­cess story: some schools had units known as Ghata — Ara­bic for cover — that weath­ered the storm.

Ghata units are the re­sult of a project spear­headed by the Amer­i­can Uni­ver­sity of Beirut and Ed­u­ca­tion Above All Foun­da­tion that helps im­prove ed­u­ca­tion for vul­ner­a­ble and marginalised peo­ple.

The 20sq m units, which can be as­sem­bled by two peo­ple in six hours, rely on low-cost ma­te­ri­als eas­ily found in a lo­cal mar­ket­place. The units then can be dis­as­sem­bled in less than three hours for re­assem­bly else­where at a later date. The units can with­stand se­vere weather and have a life­span of 10 to 15 years.

To date, 10 por­ta­ble school cam­puses lo­cated within refugee set­tle­ments have been as­sem­bled, serv­ing about 5000 stu­dents an­nu­ally.

Some of these units were used as shel­ters by refugees dur­ing the storm, while in oth­ers classes went on as usual be­cause they were on higher ground and the walls don’t leak wa­ter.

Eng­lish teacher Nahida Nu­seir held a 9th-grade class that was at­tended by nearly 30 fe­male Syr­ian stu­dents.

“If we had tents we will not be able to give them school be­cause as you know all the tents here in the coun­try were de­stroyed by the storm,” she said.

“Thank God we didn’t have any prob­lems dur­ing storms,” said school prin­ci­pal Sa­mar Jum­ruk.

‘Only God’s mercy can save us’ ALAA SHEHADEH REFUGEE

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.