A violent storm – Storm “Norma” – hit Lebanon hard on the morning of Sunday 6 January, and continued raging until the early hours of Thursday 10 January. Several days of strong winds, snow and torrential rains have affected more than 570 informal tented sites all over the country, home to over 22,500 refugees.
Mohamed, a young refugee from Deir ez-Zor carries blankets after UNHCR distribution. © UNHCR/Diego Ibarra Sánchez
12 January 2019 (BEIRUT) – A violent storm – Storm “Norma” – hit Lebanon hard on the morning of Sunday 6 January, and continued raging until the early hours of Thursday 10 January.
Several days of strong winds, snow and torrential rains have affected more than 570 informal tented sites all over the country, home to over 22,500 refugees.
UNHCR, UNICEF and other humanitarian agencies, together with Lebanese authorities scrambled to attend to the needs of the affected Lebanese and refugees.
The emergency response to the extreme weather conditions was coordinated by the Ministry of Social Affairs and UNHCR through the inter-agency coordination mechanism. Aid agencies have deployed to pump water out of inundated sites and provide affected refugees with relief items such as mattresses, blankets, children winter clothes, dignity and hygiene kits, fuel vouchers, plastic sheets, and wood poles.
Given the scale of the challenges, agencies prioritized assistance to the most affected refugees first. So far, some 10,000 refugees have been reached with urgent distributions, and aid agencies will continue working around the clock to reach all affected refugees and sites.
Over two months ago, UNHCR, UNICEF and partner organizations pre-positioned contingency stocks and grants for the winter to help quickly deploy relief items to vulnerable refugees during extreme weather conditions.
However, the storm still hit refugees hard. Spontaneous settlements in Lebanon are made of temporary shelter materials. Such dwellings cannot sustain extreme weather conditions for too long, despite all the efforts of humanitarian actors.
Tragically, the violent storm took the life of Fatima, an eight-year-old Syrian refugee girl who was swept away by floods in Minieh, northern Lebanon.
Across the country, the Civil Defence and Lebanese Red Cross rushed to evacuate distressed refugees who found themselves stuck in their shelters because of floods or snow. Municipalities have also mobilized to ensure roads leading to informal settlements are accessible, and that those whose shelters were destroyed can be temporarily relocated to alternative sites where they can keep warm and dry.
In the Bekaa alone, at least 847 Syrian refugees had to relocate due to floods or severe damages to their shelters. In the North, the over 700 relocations are reported so far.
Aid agencies estimate that approximately 850 informal settlements, hosting over 70,000 refugees, are at risk of being affected by extreme weather.
Agencies are preparing for another storm that is forecast to begin tomorrow. Emergency stocks have been replenished and sanitation provisions were delivered. Teams are also closely monitoring family separation cases to make sure children are protected during possible evacuations.
At this time of emergency, the agencies are calling for all governmental and non-governmental actors as well as communities to stay mobilized and to work jointly towards protecting the most vulnerable people from further severe weather.