BEIRUT ( Associated Press) — A blizzard in the Middle East has left many Lebanese and Syrians scrambling to find ways to survive, as temperatures drop to keep old clothes, plastics and in some cases even sheep manure warm. and poverty increases.
The storm, named “Hiba” in Lebanon, began on Tuesday night and is expected to peak on Thursday. The small Mediterranean country’s massive economic collapse and currency crash have meant a growing number of Lebanese households are unable to afford fuel to heat their homes this winter.
Hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees in Lebanon and Jordan, as well as others displaced by the Syrian war, are sheltering in poorly heated tents relying on layers of blankets to keep them warm.
“The situation is very, very difficult,” said social activist Basim Atash, speaking from the snow-capped northeastern Lebanese city of Arsal near the Syrian border. Arsal is home to one of the largest Syrian refugee concentrations in Lebanon, with some 50,000 people, most of whom live in vulnerable tents.
Atrash said Syrian refugees, as well as some Lebanese who have fallen into poverty since the country’s financial meltdown began in October 2019, lack diesel for heaters, while frequent power cuts render electric heaters useless .
“They’re burning anything from plastic to old clothes to keep their heaters running,” Atash said. Earlier this month a Syrian mother and her three children died in their sleep due to toxic fumes From burning coal to heating his room in a village in southern Lebanon.
Lebanon, a country of six million people, is home to 1.5 million Syrians who have fled a decades-long civil war in their country. The United Nations estimates that 90% of Syrian refugee families live in extreme poverty. But as Lebanon grapples with an unprecedented economic crisis, poverty deepens For both Lebanese and Syrian. skyrocketing fuel prices This coupled with the collapse of the currency has meant that many essential commodities are now out of reach for the average Lebanese.
Nadeem Attih, a Lebanese living at an altitude of 750 meters above sea level, decided to donate some of his firewood to needy families when he heard how cold it would be. Attih used Twitter to promote her one-of-a-kind charity: a ton of wood. This is enough for a family of five or six that will last them three days ahead of the coldest times.
“I have stocked up on wood during the summer and have a good quantity. So why not share it with those who are underprivileged?” Asked Attih, who was looking for a job after losing his job in the Gulf country a few years ago.
A tonne of wood now costs five times the minimum wage, selling for 3 million Lebanese pounds ($120), while some 20 liters of diesel now run for around 300,000 – about ten more than three years ago. fold.
In Syria’s northwestern province of Idlib, where many of the three million residents are displaced, Yassin al-Yasin was fortifying his tent with additional tarps and supports as the weather turned bad.
Al-Yasin, who lives in the tent with his wife, two daughters and son, could not afford wood or diesel for heating, so he would burn dry sheep manure that has been piled up over the summer.
“We only have tarps and blankets to protect us,” he said by telephone from a tent surrounded by mountains near the Turkish border. He said that only those who get strict currency from relatives abroad can buy diesel and wood for heating.
International aid group Care International said temperatures in Jordan, Lebanon and Syria were likely to drop, putting the lives of millions of people already living in precarious conditions at risk.
“People can watch their breath while lying on their thin mattresses, you will see kids walking around in flipflops and torn shirts. The families fear they will starve to death,” said Care Syria country director Jolian Veldwijk.
Associated Press writer Sarah El Deeb in Beirut contributed reporting.