Syrian Refugees in Bekaa.Crisis of survival in the Middle East
Syrian Refugees in Bekaa.Crisis of survival in the Middle East
Hydro-Insecurity and Vulnerable Women: The Model of Syrian Refugees in Bekaa
Amal, a twelve year old girl lives at 003 Refugee Camp in El Marj, Bekaa valley, eastern Lebanon, since fleeing the violence in Syria in 2012. This camp in Bekaa is home to 1072 refugees that escaped from Aleppo, Idlib and Homs, to settle in 162 tents, which they set up on a land of a Lebanese farmer. In front of their tents, water tanks and latrines are installed.
Bekaa is considered among the 30 hydro-insecure governorates in the region, as revealed in "The Hydro Insecure: Crisis of Survival in the Middle East”
report launched by Strategic Foresight Group, during the International Conference on “Exploring the Water-Peace Nexus: Blue Peace in West Asia
” held in Jordan on 18-19 March, 2015.
Where do Syrian Refugees Get Water in the Camp?
Leila, a Syrian mother of four said," World Vision gives us vouchers to buy water for drinking, and we extract water from ground for washing and showering". She added, "Drinking water is available but during the last summer we suffered from water scarcity".
In 2011 World Vision began an emergency response to the ongoing refugee crisis. World Vision is an international Christian relief and development agency whose mission is to work with the poor and oppressed to promote human transformation and seek justice. It has been active in Lebanon since 1975, when it provided shelter, food, and medicine for people affected by the civil and regional wars.
Lebanon faced a drought during 2013 - 2014, and Bekaa received only 1/5th of its mean annual rainfall. The influx of more than a million Syrian refugees has put severe pressure on the already stressed water resources; water consumption has increased by 20-25 per cent. The Shaweesh/ leader of 003 Refugee Camp said, "A group of five tents (with an average of five family members in each tent) digs a small well to extract water. We can extract around 1000 litres at a time". He added, "At the end of July we face water scarcity problems. The previous year was catastrophic. This year we may have sufficient amounts of water but we have already paid the price; the weather in winter was so cold, some refugees put their slippers in fire to get warm".
Hayat, another Syrian refugee said, "Last summer the quantity of water we extracted from wells was not enough due to shortage in rainfall".
The Shaweesh of the Camp Fareed Shlash said, "During winter water is available, but we suffer in summer".
World Vision has made improvements to water and sanitation systems in Syrian informal tented settlements in the Bekaa valley, as part of the Water, Sanitation and Health (WASH) project funded by the European Commission for Humanitarian Aid (ECHO). Hayat informed,"Drinking water reaches our tent through hoses now. Earlier, we used to fill water in buckets for bathing or clean our tents".
In Shlash Camp 019 the situation is the same, 900 people are housed in 127 tents. Most of them are from Homs, Rakka and Aleppo in Syria. Refugees receive vouchers to buy water from water tank distributors. One mother informed that latrines had recently been installed by World Vision. Earlier, children used to urinate outside the tent, in a hole in the ground, and get their bodies dirty.
John Stiefel, World Vision’s WASH project specialist said in an interview with Aljoumhouria,
“Since the beginning of the influx of Syrian refugees, a large number who are living in informal settlements tend to be vulnerable. Most of the informal settlements are on farm lands. Refugees coordinated with farm landowners to rent their land, so it is normal that they will not have access to water network or sewage system and they will face challenges and our responsibility is to reduce risks".
World Vision’s work covers four main areas starting from providing refugees cash assistance, by giving each family vouchers to buy water and install water tanks around the settlements, allowing Syrian refugees to access clean potable water to drink and prepare food (the 1,000 litre tanks are filled by World Vision every 10 days), and grey water (filled as needed) for toilets and showering.
Stiefel mentioned World Vision seeks to help Syrian refugees adapt to their new lives by raising awareness on health and proper hygiene habits inside camps, through information sessions given in settlements. While the refugees had good habits back home, living in a tented settlement is different, which is why they need help to adapt and avoid being exposed to diseases. The potable water used to fill the tanks is tested in specialized laboratories to make sure it is fit for consumption.
The organization has installed a 200 litre hidden septic tank by digging a big hole in the ground, and connected it to the latrines to contain the sewage water. These tanks are emptied by specialized trucks monthly. The refugees pay the truck drivers to empty the septic tanks with vouchers distributed by World Vision.
In 2014, Lebanon, which depends on ground water, faced a real problem due to shortage in rainfall. The presence of Syrian refugees magnified the water scarcity issue. It is hoped that in 2015 the rainfall will make up the gap. John Stiefel points out that he has been conducting research for World Vision to study the impact on a person’s adaptability, thereby assisting World Vision to move from a humanitarian response to a prolonged, sustainable response. Stiefel said, "We provide the urgent needs of water for the refugees but we need to invest strategically in infrastructure". He also asked, "What is the ability of Bekaa market to provide water? What are the challenges that Syrian refugees create to Lebanon?"
In addition to the humanitarian work, World Vision also focuses on rehabilitating the water network pipelines for Lebanese residents in Bekaa, with the support of the European Union and in cooperation with the two municipalities of Ablah and Taalabaya in central Bekaa. According to Stiefel, "Wastage of water is due to the broken pipelines; infrastructure needs to be developed to stop this loss. If the refugees leave tomorrow, there still will be needs to be managed, especially water sanitation".
Hydro-Insecurity is Not an Isolated Problem
Hydro-insecurity does not occur in isolation according to the Strategic Foresight Group report, but is accompanied by poverty, war and conflict and low women’s development. As of February 2015, the total number of refugees, Internally Displaced Persons and registered returnees in Lebanon is almost 1.7 million. Bekaa hosts the largest number of Syrian refugees in the country; the size of the refugee population is as large as 80 per cent of the local population. Of the total Syrian refugee population in Bekaa, more than three quarters are women and children. The SFG report points out that women refugee are the most vulnerable section within the female population in Bekaa.
Amal, who lives at Reif Idlib for instance, has been waking up at dawn for the past year and half to go plant potatoes in the fields. She earns 10,000 Lebanese Liras a day (approximately USD 6.5) that help her family’s livelihood. Amal said, "I would have loved to go to school, I am tired at this work, but I have no choice". The young girl admitted to the Aljoumouria
newspaper that the Shaweesh does not share with her what she earns. Her colleague, a 23 year old married young lady accused the Shaweesh of abusing refugees. She said," We are paid 10,000 Lebanese Lira a day, but 4000 of those go to the Shaweesh ". One of the Lebanese residents in the area said on condition of anonymity,"When a contactor comes in the morning to ask for workers he negotiates with the Shaweesh to reach a deal".
Acting Deputy representative of UNHCR in Lebanon Jean- Nicholas Beuze
UNHCR Acting Deputy Representative Jean-Nicholas Beuze did not deny the ordeal that Syrian refugees, especially women suffer. He told Aljoumhouria
, "We are monitoring the situation to get the information required, and trying to interfere with the Shaweesh to empower women and build their capacities in cooperation with their fathers and brothers".
Beuze added, "We are not living with the refugees. We try to find solutions - we have moved some refugees from the camps and are supporting them financially, but we faced 1700 cases. Each case has a special approach". In addition, UNHCR is also running programs to prevent the exploitation of women in prostitution but the main challenge according to Beuze is that the victims in general don’t talk about their suffering because they are afraid of being beaten or tortured.
with John Stiefel, World Vision’s WASH project specialist
Despite the efforts of the world’s leading humanitarian organizations to lessen the impact of displacement on Syrian refugees, the challenges they face are countless. Refugees, especially women are vulnerable in many ways. They have problems with their identification papers with UNHCR (USD 200 for stay renewal every six months), they do not have money to pay rent for their tents (USD 600 a year) and they pay higher prices than official tariff to receive electricity. Women and children are exploited, and even the school set up in the 003 camp was burned down so Syrian children no longer study there. The work of international organizations is like a medicine that just lessens pain while what is needed is a “political surgery” for the crisis of the civil war that has fragmented Syria and paralyzed Lebanon. That is the only way to stop the suffering of refugees and help them to not be vulnerable.
The link of the report at SFG Website: