UK helps Syrian refugees weather the storms in Lebanon

This month, a powerful storm charged through Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley, burying homes in snow. Multi-purpose cash the United Kingdom’s Department of International Development (DFID) provides through the World Food Programme’s (WFP) ecards has been life-saving for many.

Edward Johnson
World Food Programme Insight


Fatima came from Homs to Lebanon expecting to find temporary respite from the horrors of war. This month, storm and floods flooded her house with icy water. She was forced her to move again, but this time, only a few doors down the alley way — the main thoroughfare in this informal tented settlement.

Over three days, water flooded Fatima’s home. Her belongings are drying out in the sun. Photos: WFP/Edward Johnson

Fragile lives in fragile shelters

“The water came from everywhere; through the roof, the walls, even up out of the ground.”

Most homes belonging to Syrian refugees in Lebanon have been hastily built, using whatever materials can be found. WFP’s 2018 Vulnerability Assessment of Syrian Refugees (VASyR) found that 36 percent of refugees are living in shelters that do not meet humanitarian standards.

In Fatima’s case, that is true. She talks to me crouched down in the corner of the room where the family sleeps. She is applying a crudely-made concrete mix with her frozen hands in an attempt to stop more water seeping up into the room where the family of six usually sleeps on the ground. Now their mattresses are piled up on shelving, up away from the icy ground.

“The water came from everywhere; through the roof, the walls, even up out of the ground. The wind was so strong, my children thought the house would take off,” she says.

Fatima uses a concrete mix to cover up gaps where more water could enter her home. Photos: WFP/Edward Johnson

WFP cash assistance

Since arriving in Lebanon, Fatima has been given food assistance from WFP through cash e-cards she can use in shops to buy. Each months, her card is charged with US$27 per person to spend on food. Additionally, she has been receiving since 2017 a monthly top-up of US$175 through DFID funds that she could spend on other essential needs.

Life in the Bekaa is harsh. Summers are stiflingly hot and competition for meager job opportunities is fierce. When winter rolls around, new challenges emerge — staying warm, dry and at its most basic level; surviving. The winter can be brutal in Lebanon as Fatima discovered this January.

With her cash, Fatima has been able to buy tools she needs to fix her home. Photos: WFP/Edward Johnson

This winter, fuel and tools have been a priority. She showed me the burner and the saw that she bought this winter to complete her house repairs — all paid for with DFID cash.

She also used the money to buy fuel that has been potentially life-saving in her case. Since the rains abated, drying out her mattresses, children’s clothing and rugs has only been possible with the burner and some sunshine.”

Many families in that settlement can only burn the trash they find lying around, often toxic plastic, that is, if they have a stove in the first place.

The family’s important belongings hang from the wall. Photos: WFP/Edward Johnson

Fatima’s grab-and-go bag

“The first time I ran was because of war, now it’s because of water. I hope the next time I move, it’s back to Syria.”

Now Fatima’s most valuable belongings — identity papers, the e-card loaded with cash from WFP, and a few photos of her family back home — are all now in a black bag that hangs on the wall by the door. It’s her grab bag in case she has to flee again.

“The first time I ran was because of war, now it’s because of water,” says Fatima. “I hope the next time I move, it’s back to Syria.”

At the time of writing, winter is far from over but Fatima’s is better prepared to weather whatever storm comes next thanks to cash provisions from the United Kingdom.

Read more about WFP’s work in Lebanon.



Edward Johnson
World Food Programme Insight

Communications guy at @wfp #Ethiopia. Into all things food. My views. #ZeroHunger