BEKAA VALLEY, Lebanon (November 7, 2012) — The large chalkboard is a reminder that the crowded shelter housing Zaineb, her family and more than a hundred other Syrian refugees is actually a school.
“It is so hard. We do everything in this classroom—we sleep, eat, cook. There are no showers, so I wash my children here in a bucket, but there is enough water only to wash them once a week,” says Zaineb.
It is estimated that more than 100,000 Syrian refugees are now in Lebanon. Fleeing across the border, these families stay wherever they can—with friends, with family, with generous strangers, in public buildings, in abandoned homes. Some families have pitched tents on vacant land. Some pay for shelter with scarce resources.
Accessing basic necessities is difficult, particularly water and sanitation facilities.
Zaineb is six months pregnant. She, her husband and their three young children Ali, Safa and Marwan fled their home in Hama, Syrian Arab Republic, after it was destroyed during a bombing.
The family crossed into Lebanon a month ago. Without a place to stay, they took shelter in a small, private school in Arsal, a village close to the eastern Syrian border in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley. It was the best they could afford.
Nearly 150 other people are staying at the school. Zaineb’s family pay $100 a month, one of the lowest going rates in the area.
There are only four functioning toilets, and no showers or drinking water.
A recent UNICEF-supported assessment of Syrian refugee families and host communities showed an increasing number of cases of diarrhea caused by shortages of drinking water, contamination of water and a lack of toilets.
The assessment also found that children living in these areas are at high risk of disease.
In partnership with Action Contre la Faim, UNICEF is running a water voucher program to meet the emergency drinking water needs of families across the Bekaa Valley.
“Continuous access to safe drinking water is our first priority in a crisis situation like this,” says UNICEF Representative Annamaria Laurini. “As the conflict continues in Syria, more families arrive in Lebanon, and the demand for drinking water is becoming vital. We are mobilizing all efforts to raise funds to meet the urgently growing needs.”
The families sheltering at the school receive water vouchers based on the size of the family. Each voucher provides enough water for a month, and a local water trucking company is in charge of delivery.
People receive three gallons a day per person—the international standard during an emergency. It is enough to survive.
The new voucher program reaches 5,000 people, but the needs are much greater. UNICEF’s objective is to reach more than 50,000 people in the near future, subject to availability of funds.
Along with clean drinking water, families need better sanitation facilities and hygiene supplies.
UNICEF will distribute jerry cans, ceramic water filters, buckets and water purification tablets. New toilets, showers and handwashing stations urgently need to be built.
Zaineb says she feels some comfort surrounded by other families living through the same situation as her. The other women at the school are supportive. They have become friends.
“I don’t know what will happen tomorrow. I am worried about raising a new baby in these conditions,” she says.
Every day, more Syrian families are arriving in Lebanon’s small border towns. These communities are doing as best they can. But support to meet their basic needs—drinking water, showers and toilets—is urgently needed now.