Severe weather may take lives among displaced in the Middle East. Storms, snow and freezing cold are threatening lives among exhausted Syrian refugees in the Middle East. Norwegian Refugee Council fears that the insufficient assistance may have fatal consequences for refugees and internally displaced from Lebanon to Northern Iraq.
“Similar weather conditions two years ago led to unnecessary deaths in the war-torn region. Now there are millions more Syrian and Iraqi refugees and internally displaced in dire need of help. We see that all the winterization programs we have undertaken are not enough and fear for many more unnecessary deaths if emergency support is not scaled up immediately”, urges Secretary General Jan Egeland of Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC).
The snow storm in parts of Iraq, Lebanon, Syria and Jordan is making the emergency relief work harder. Yesterday, staff from NRC’s Bekaa office were working with refugees in informal tented settlements to put in place flood mitigation measures in advance of the harsh storm which hit overnight. Field teams distributed 1,205 plywood sheets and 885 bricks as floor-raising kits for tents in two settlements in the town of Sarain, and 250 wooden pallets to ensure a clear pathway in five settlements in the town at risk of flooding. “This morning residents of these informal settlements awoke to a knee-deep blanket of snow. With roads impassable in Bekaa, our staff have not been able to reach refugee settlements, but photos sent to NRC by the refugees show the impact of the snow on their living conditions”, Niamh Murnaghan, NRC’s Country Director in Lebanon said.
In Southern Lebanon, gales and heavy rain resulted in severe damage to tents and other shelters. NRC was able to assist in rehousing refugee families whose living spaces were no longer habitable.
Temperatures are also freezing in the town of Dohuk in Northern Iraq where NRCs Emergency Response Team leader Kate Norton is currently present. “It is bitterly cold here now, particularly at night. Thousands of internally displaced Iraqis are living in unfinished and abandoned buildings totally exposed to the elements. There are no doors, nor windows and the roofs are leaking. There are severe weather warnings issued for the rest of this week and particularly in the mountain areas of Dohuk Governorate where many displaced have taken refuge”, says Norton.
Funding shortfalls, coupled with the sudden and large increase in number of displaced means that the assistance NRC provides will not be able to cover all the needs. Only 54% of the humanitarian appeal for the Syrian refugee response was funded in 2014. “NRC is doing all we can to support the displaced, but the task is enormous. It is a struggle against the clock, as the temperatures are already sub-zero. There is an urgent need for the international community witnessing the desperation of our fellow human beings to scale up the assistance dramatically,” says Secretary General Egeland.
NRC has some 1000 aid workers in the region supporting one million refugees and displaced with distribution of heaters, blankets, carpets and plastic sheeting. In Jordan alone NRC has distributed more than 300,000 winter items, including clothes, heaters and blankets inside of camps, and distributed cash to vulnerable families residing outside of formal camps.