Syrian refugees fight to survive snowstorm in the Middle East

Emergencies, In the field article written on the 09 Jan 2015

Millions of Syrian refugees, many already struggling to cope through their third or fourth winter displaced from their homes, have been hit with new misery as unusually harsh winter storms and torrential rain sweep across the Middle East.

Sheltering in makeshift tents, often with inadequate winter clothing, refugees are struggling to hold one. Three refugees, including two children, have reportedly lost their lives in the freezing conditions. Oxfam staff working to support those most in need say many of the children and coughing and sick, many just wearing threadbare summer sandals.

In coastal areas in Northern Lebanon many refugees have been left homeless as their tents have been destroyed by heavy rains and strong winds.

In some parts of the Bekaa Valley in Northern Lebanon, the snow is more than a meter high, stranding thousands of people in urgent need of food, water, shelter and fuel for heating. Power has been lost leaving many refugees cut off from the outside world and unable to ask for assistance. In Za’atari refugee camp in Jordan, the storm has brought new hardship to thousands sheltering in makeshift camps. All but essential services have been shut down for now due to the storm. Storm water may cause the septic tanks to overflow, leading to big health risks.

Oxfam is working hard to respond to some of most desperate needs under extremely difficult conditions. We’ve been working with the UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR, to distribute plastic sheeting to protect tents form the snow and rain. We’re continuing to provide clean water to thousands of refugees affected by the storm, including providing water containers so that refugees can decant safe drinking water, as water tanks have frozen.

We’re also working to dig trenches to ensure that tents do not get flooded from storm water, and will soon be providing cash assistance so refugees can go and purchase essential items they need to help them weather the harsh weather.

This dire situation shows no signs of abating and the storm is expected to last several days. It’s a tragic reminder of the critical need for ongoing international support to help the millions whose lives have been torn apart by violence in Syria, but also the urgency of redoubling efforts to find a peaceful political solution to a conflict that has been raging for almost four years.