Mohammed stands in front of his family's tent, which collapsed under the heavy snowfall. Photo by Ralph Baydoun, World Vision
Sand dunes, sunshine, dust storms and deserts – this is what most people imagine when they think of the Middle East. When I found out I’d be spending January in Jordan to work on World Vision’s Syria Response, a colleague warned me “It gets really cold in winter.” Probably like most people I wondered, “How cold could it possibly get in the Middle East?”
Just two short weeks ago, on New Year’s Eve, I spent time with a lovely Syrian family in Azraq refugee camp. That day, the sun was shining, the temperature was pleasant, children were smiling and having fun and, certainly considering everything they’d been through, they seemed ok.
The weather has taken a rapid turn since then as a snowstorm has swept through the Middle East. My World Vision colleague Ralph Baydoun visited tented Syrian refugee settlements in Lebanon’s Bekaa valley this week to find out how people are coping. One young boy, Mohammed, told him “We were in the tent and suddenly it fell on our heads. I took my brother and left and my mum rescued my two sisters. The tent couldn’t bear the amount of snow on it.”
Ralph also spoke to a young girl, Mariha, who was wearing slippers in the snow, and asked why she wasn’t inside. She replied, “I’m so cold, but I need to search for wood so we can get warm at night.”
Although World Vision, and other agencies, provided items to help Syrian refugees face winter, conditions are harsher than expected. Distributions of more blankets and winter clothing will take place in the Bekaa valley in the coming days.
Syrian residents of Za’atari refugee camp in Jordan have also felt the impact of the storm. There, many tents have collapsed under the weight of the snow while others have been inundated with water.
Then there’s those affected inside Syria. In the past few days, heavy rains have caused flooding in the camps and destruction of tents and personal items.
World Vision has been able to reach 600 of the most affected families, through local partners. I spoke to Khalil Sleiman, World Vision’s Syria Response Manager who said “they’ve lost pretty much everything, again, once when they fled the fighting, and now because of the rains.” In the past few days, these families have received kits including a mattress, blankets, flash light, water container, tent repair kit, woollen hats, socks and winter boots.
Just like everyone else, I get overwhelmed by the numbers – 7.6 million people displaced inside Syria and 3.2 million refugees in neighbouring countries. And although there is much more that needs to be done, it warms my heart to know that there are Syrian children out there right now with blankets to wrap around them and socks to warm their feet.
Find out more about World Vision’s Syrian Crisis response.