Biting cold, icy winds and heavy snow arrived in Syria and much of the Middle East last week, creating new misery for hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees sheltering in camps.
Within Syria, at least nine children are reported to have died of cold.
“... when the really bad weather hit we were literally rescuing families who’d lost their tents in snow storms overnight.”
— Jane McPhail, UNICEF Jordan
UNICEF has worked throughout fall to prepare families for a bitter winter. The goal: to reach more than 2 million children in Syria and the surrounding region.
In Syria, 450,000 blankets, 65,000 plastic sheets and 28,000 sets of children's clothing have been distributed, and UNICEF is currently delivering supplies in rural Damascus, Homs and Ar-Raqqa. UNICEF is also working with partners to airlift aid to the Qamishly region of northeast Syria, one of Syria's coldest, where families endure extremely harsh conditions.
At the Za'atari camp in Jordan, UNICEF delivered 24,000 blankets and 25,000 winter clothing kits with gloves, jackets, winter boots and much more for children under five in early December. UNICEF will distribute 150,000 of these kits in Lebanon.
Efforts are also underway in to improve drainage systems in refugee camps and provide concrete floors for people living in tents.
Winter rain and snow turn earthen pathways and floors to mud, and unheated tents provide little protection from extreme cold. UNICEF's efforts follow a tremendously difficult winter season last year — with a much smaller refugee population.
“Last winter was horrible,” said UNICEF Jordan’s Jane McPhail, a Child Protection specialist. “Everyone kept saying that it doesn’t snow in Za’atari, but when the really bad weather hit we were literally rescuing families who’d lost their tents in snowstorms overnight."
For children, winter is a survival issue. People crowd into close quarters to stay warm, diseases circulate easily, respiratory infections and common colds develop into pneumonia.