IN THE Beqaa Valley in Lebanon, the country's most important
farming region, dozens of encampments have sprung up in recent
months on pockets of disused land. Consisting of shacks made from
wood and plastic sheeting, these are the homes of some of the
thousands of refugees from Syria who have sought sanctuar.
The conditions they have fled worsen daily. Syria, it seems, is
disintegrating before the eyes of the international community. A
peaceful end to the violence is desperately needed, but will
continue to be elusive - unless world leaders step up efforts to
find a just solution.
The agony of the conflict, which has so far cost an estimated
70,000 lives, has triggered a humanitarian crisis of massive
proportions. Four million people are in need of help inside Syria:
two million are homeless, while a further million live in miserable
conditions in neighbouring countries. It is estimated that one in
four Syrians, either inside the country or beyond its borders, are
in urgent need. The UN reports that 5000 refugees are fleeing the
country every day.
The scale of the crisis far outweighs the humanitarian response
so far. Food is badly needed, along with materials for shelters and
medical supplies, but this is just the start. A generation of
children is growing up without an education, many of them
traumatised by their experiences.
In January, world Leaders, UN agencies, and humanitarian
organisations gathered in Kuwait to pledge their support to the
humanitarian effort, but many of the pledges have not yet been
In Lebanon, the number of arrivals is now so great that they
represent more than ten per cent of the country's entire
population, which stood at four-and-a-half million before the
crisis. The official figure is said to be more than 300,000, but
the unofficial figure is more than twice this. And still they
arrive - some 42,000 in the past fortnight.
They have found shelter wherever they can: the Lebanese
government has not yet permitted any official camps. Some have
moved in with relatives, or are renting rooms, while others erect
makeshift camps wherever they can, or bed down in disused
IN THE camps in the Beqaa Valley, conditions are squalid. "The
hygiene situation here is very bad - children are getting sick, and
there is no clean water," Samira, a mother of seven children,
The scale of suffering is shocking. At Bedawi, a camp
established decades ago for Palestinians, near the border of
Lebanon with Syria, a new arrival, Kamal, aged 32, described how he
and his family were forced to flee months of violence in Yarmouk,
one of the largest Palestinian camps in Syria.
At first, they found shelter in a mosque in Damascus, where they
were able to stay at night, but eventually they crossed the border,
and home now is a four-room apartment, sleeping 23 each night -
many of them ill from malnourishment and overcrowding.
About 16,000 people now live in the camp at Bedawi - 6000 of
them Palestinians from Syria who have arrived in the past year. As
many as 2000 more are expected in the coming weeks.
A Lebanese organisation, Association Najdeh, which is working in
Bedawi, has provided bedding and food, such as rice, beans, sugar,
hummus, cheese, and tomatoes, as well as education and support for
children. It has identified a further 5000 people who are in urgent
Sanaa Qais, who works for Najdeh as a teacher in one of the
camps, says: "We want to help. With more resources, we could give
more blankets and food and support to more children, but the need
is more. They need houses. Even if they have relatives here, it is
expensive, and they cannot always help them."
Bread is five times the price it was in Syria; so families
struggle to feed themselves. Rents have doubled or trebled because
landlords are taking advantage of the huge numbers arriving. Some
charge as much as £150 a month for a rented room, sometimes in
appalling conditions, often housing up to 20 people.
Association Najdeh also reports that many refugees are suffering
from psychological trauma. It is already providing counselling and
therapy to children in the camps, as are civil-society
organisations elsewhere in Lebanon.
Eleven-year-old Hoda watched as a bomb killed her sister, after
which her family fled the country. "I will always remember what
happened - we buried my sister, and then we left."
Now in Lebanon, she attends a school run by another Lebanese
organisation, Mouvement Social, which has helped 1500 Syrian
refugees in the past year, providing children with education,
psychosocial support, and food.
Mouvement Social is making a huge difference to Hoda and other
children who have suffered in the conflict. "I love everything we
do here. I especially love reading - I love Arabic literature,"
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees, António Guterres, said in
January: "Of all the terrible conflicts facing the world in 2013,
Syria is undoubtedly the most complex and dangerous. Two years into
the crisis, its humanitarian impact is enormous, in particular
since fighting escalated during the summer of 2012."
It is indeed complex, and the UN and other organisations are
making valiant attempts to make a difference; but the problems seem
overwhelming. Efforts must be stepped up to ensure a peaceful end
to the conflict, as a matter of urgency. Those who have pledged
funds should also meet their commitments promptly. A humanitarian
crisis of this scale requires immediate action.
Johanna Rogers is a journalist at Christian Aid specialising
in Asia and the Middle East.
Christian Aid has launched a Syria and Middle East Crisis
Appeal, working through local partners such Najdeh and Mouvement
Social. For details, visit www.christian-aid.org.