Lebanon struggles to cope with Syrian refugee influx

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New figures from the United Nations show that the number of refugees in Lebanon has now reached half a million - in a country with a population of just over 4 million.

With the continuous fighting and the increase in needs, the United Nations World Food Program (WFP) appealed on Saturday for more than one billion US dollars to feed up to 7 million Syrians from now and until the end of the year.

In Lebanon, WFP anticipates there will be more than twice as many Syrian refugees needing food aid by the end of the year. They've now announced they will scale up aid to reach more than four times the 370,000 people they are helping now.

Mayor Fayyad Haydar in Qub Elias said he is struggling to cope with the influx.

"The municipality is working at full capacity but the needs are putting immense pressure on us due to the increasing numbers of refugees. The municipality alone is not able to cope; it is almost impossible," said Haydar.

"In our municipality, there are around 16,000 registered refugees. 40 per cent of them live in houses and 60 per cent in tents," he added.

WFP provides 42.8 kg of food commodities containing oil, cheese, tuna and canned meat, coffee, pasta, Halava, wheat flour, sugar, rice, and dry pulses -- enough for a family of five people for one month. This assistance is given to newly arriving families who are vulnerable and have not yet registered with UNHCR.

Iman is a 22-year-old mother who fled with her four children from Al-Qusayr in Homs in early May, stopping off in Hesieh for three days before crossing into the Bekaa.

"I came from Al-Qusayr, went to Hesieh first then to Lebanon. I came with my neighbors. I told them, take me with you, wherever you go. Here I am staying at my neighbors’ house with my children and now I am receiving food assistance," said Iman.

Feeding the refugees is now the most complex and challenging emergency for WFP.

Head of WFP sub-office in Bekaa, Ingolfur Palsson, explained the problems.

"Every month we have 50,000 people crossing the border to Lebanon coming from Syria. And every month we are increasing our capacity to meet the needs of these people. For us, food is the highest priority for these people at the moment. We're able to cope, but it's getting more and more difficult," he said.

To help the local economy, WFP issues food vouchers to refugees once they are registered. This enables them to shop in participating stores. The WFP food voucher in Lebanon has a value of 27 US dollars per person per month.

Amira is a 40-year-old widow with four children who fled from Al-Qusayr seven months ago and lives in a tented settlement in Bar Elias.

"I came from Al-Qusayr. I fled with my children because of the shelling. Here we receive food vouchers that help us buy what we need. Life here is so difficult," said Amira.

The United Nations warned on Friday that half of all Syrians will need humanitarian aid by the end of 2013 and launched what it said was the largest emergency appeal in history to cope with the civil war crisis.

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