Storm threatens Syria refugees in Lebanon

Ahead of the winter storm “Alexa” expected to bring snow and heavy rain

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Lebanon is mobilizing its civil defense forces to help thousands of Syrian refugees living in makeshift camps ahead of a winter storm expected to bring snow and heavy rain, the social affairs minister said Monday.

“The ministry, in cooperation with UNHCR and all our partners, has mobilized to do what’s necessary to protect Syrian refugees and Lebanese citizens in need during this storm,” Lebanese Social Affairs Minister Wael Abu Faour said, according to Agence France-Presse.

The storm “Alexa” is expected to arrive Tuesday night amid fears that it might affect thousands of Syrian refugees living in makeshift shelters.

There are at least 835,000 registered Syrian refugees in Lebanon, some renting apartments, others living with Lebanese families and the rest are living in the makeshift shelters.

The vast majority of the camps are in the Bekaa Valley region in east Lebanon, where temperatures regularly dip below zero and winter brings snow and rain.

“There are a large number of informal camps... and quick action is required with the approach of the storm,” Faour added.

“I don’t think there is a single Lebanese official who can sleep with a clear conscience while women, children and the elderly -- Syrians, Palestinians or Lebanese – can’t close their eyes because of cold and hunger.”

The officials said work with the help from the Lebanese army and international aid agencies have already began.

The Lebanese authorities started distributing plastic sheeting and wood planks to refugees living in the informal camps, along with heaters and food aid.

The winter storm named “Alexa” is expected to bring several days of rain and snow for Lebanon, and a steep drop in temperature.

“Unfortunately, I can’t be very reassuring... we will do our best to alleviate suffering, but not to make it disappear,” Minister Faour said.

“How can we move thousands of displaced people in a few days?”

Lebanon, with a population of four million, has maintained open borders with Syria, allowing hundreds of thousands of refugees to flee into the tiny country.

But the influx, estimated to be more than one million people, has severely tested the country's limited resources.

“Alexa” is not only a threat to Syrian refugees; it could as well threaten the collapse of old buildings, the Landlords Association warned on Monday.

“The information we have been collecting on a daily basis indicates that there are several buildings at risk of collapsing, raising fears of possible partial collapses to old buildings in some cities and villages,” the Lebanon Daily Star newspaper quoted the association as saying in a statement.

“We urge municipalities, particularly those of Beirut, Tripoli, and Sidon, to be remain cautious of a tragedy similar to that of the Fassouh building collapse as a result of the rough winter storms expected to hit Lebanon, primarily ‘Alexa,’” it added.

In early last year, a building in Beirtu’s Fassouh neighborhood collapsed because of a heavy storm, killing 27 people and injuring around 10 others.

In addition to heavy rainfall, the storm will bring intense cold and snowfall at medium altitudes in northern Lebanon, between 1,000-1,500 meters, the newspaper reported.

On Sunday, Lebanon’s police issued a warning for citizens because of the expected storm. The police urged citizens not to drive on mountainous roads.

(With AFP)

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