Sitting last week with a group of Syrian refugees in Lebanon’s Bekaa valley where they have fled the brutal conflict in neighbouring Syria, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to contemplate a viable road ahead with worsening conditions, donor funding for the humanitarian response in decline, few offers of resettlement for the most vulnerable refugees and, crucially, little hope emanating from stalled efforts to find a political solution to the conflict. This is a trend that can and must be reversed.
After several successive days of rain, a group of families showed me how their basic tents had been flooded, the bare red earth still a pool of mud. Refugees want to return home to a Syria that is not clouded by violence, but in the meantime they want to work to provide for their loved ones – and with so few jobs to go round, they have to rely on the ever-declining pool of humanitarian assistance provided by the UN and organizations like Oxfam. Less than two weeks until the end of the year, the UN appeal for 2014 is shockingly still only 46% funded .
Like an umbrella in a hurricane
“It breaks my heart, my beautiful children don’t even know how to use a pen and paper,” one mother told me. Of 60 children in the settlement of tents in which they live, only one little girl has been admitted to a school close by. Her name is Waed – meaning “promise.”
My caring and eminently capable colleagues in the Bekaa valley began discussions with the group about setting up a makeshift school, relying on one educated member of the community, while others set out to deliver plastic sheeting to settlements to help guard against the increasing winter rain and freezing winds and build latrines to improve sanitation in the settlements. But without a significant scale-up in international support and a serious attempt to drive warring parties to put down their weapons and into negotiations, there is a risk that humanitarian efforts could begin to feel like an umbrella in a hurricane.
A huge impact on public services and poverty
It is not only the refugees in Lebanon who are suffering – poor Lebanese communities are also at the sharp end as infrastructure and public services come under extreme strain. According to the UN, there are now 61% more people living below the poverty line in Lebanon than there were before the crisis. A nation of only 4.4 million people, Lebanon hosts more refugees per capita than anywhere else in the world, and has seen a 27% increase in its population. This is the equivalent the Netherlands moving to the UK, Germany taking in Greece and Sweden, or France taking in Austria and Switzerland.
This week, the UN and Government launch a new Lebanon Crisis Response Plan – part of a regional plan to support refugees and build the resilience of host communities across the region to cope with the crisis – calling for $2.14 billion to support critical humanitarian and development programs in Lebanon. The plan looks not just at meeting the immediate needs of vulnerable communities in terms of food, water and sanitation and shelter – in dire need as they are – but also building support for livelihood opportunities, social cohesion and public services over the longer term which will help to ensure that Lebanon’s stability is maintained.
As an international community, it is within our power to ensure that the future for refugees and vulnerable Lebanese communities isn’t hopeless. As citizens, we need to keep pushing our governments to step up to the plate – to provide funding, to offer resettlement to the most vulnerable refugees whose needs cannot be met in the region, and to redouble diplomatic efforts to end the bloodshed in Syria.
Supporting Lebanon now can make a critical difference both for the millions of people in need like Fadia and Abu Ali.
Oxfam is a member of the Lebanon Humanitarian INGO Forum, 26 international NGO members who are working throughout Lebanon to deliver assistance and support to refugees and vulnerable Lebanese communities.
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