For the fifth consecutive year, Syrian refugees in Lebanon are bracing to weather the cold winter season that recently arrived with the frost.
Mother of seven Fatima Ibrahim al-Mohammad said she is worried about the cold, and recalls the acute shortage of heating materials and blankets her family faced last year in their tent at a Bar Elias refugee camp in the Bekaa Valley.
"I do not want our tragedy last year to repeat this year, especially as my children cannot withstand the cold and frost," she told Al-Mashareq.
Al-Mohammad said she, along with thousands of other Syrian refugees, awaits the aid distributed by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and relief organisations, which "will help us endure and get through the winter".
The UNHCR is "focusing this year on providing refugees and the poorest Lebanese families with winter aid to help them withstand and survive this season", said UNHCR assistant public information officer Lisa Abu Khaled.
They "often are unable to secure their own winter needs, such as fuel, winter clothes and nutritious meals", she told Al-Mashareq.
According to the preliminary findings of a 2016 survey assessing the vulnerability of Syrian refugees in Lebanon conducted by three UN agencies, more than 70% of registered refugees still live under the poverty line of $3.84 per day, Abu Khaled said.
"The survey also showed that 54% of refugees are in need of continuous support to shore up and improve their dwellings to meet minimum standards," she said.
UNHCR winter programme
"The UNHCR supplementary winter programme is currently under way," she said, noting that it "includes monthly cash assistance of $147 to about 900,000 refugees facing economic difficulties".
More vulnerable refugees who receive monthly cash assistance also will receive "an additional $75 for a period of five months to cover extra seasonal expenses", Abu Khaled said.
In areas where there are no automated teller machines, $100 fuel vouchers will be distributed instead of cash assistance, she said, adding that distribution began in October and will continue through March 2017.
Winter intervention programmes implemented by the UNHCR and partner organisations also will seek to improve conditions for the refugee population by spreading gravel and improving sewage systems in makeshift camps.
More than 55,000 refugee families living in sub-standard shelters, such as tents, garages, unfinished buildings and outbuildings also will receive assistance to weatherproof their dwellings, she said.
More vulnerable refugee and Lebanese families also will receive blankets, stoves and clothes, she added.
The UNHCR recently received cash assistance from several countries, which will help it provide emergency winter aid to about 25,000 Syrian families for the next five months, Abu Khaled said.
"In addition to the assistance received from Kuwait, which amounted to $7.96 million, we received funding from the US, Canada, Germany and Norway that was not allocated beforehand to specific projects," she said.
Collecting blankets, clothes
In conjunction with the UNHCR winter aid programme, civil society groups are actively providing assistance to Syrian and Lebanese families in need.
On December 4th, the Dafa Campaign launched its second annual winter campaign at Martyrs' Square in downtown Beirut.
It has collected several tonnes of food aid, wool blankets and new and used clothing and furniture donated to support needy Lebanese families and Syrian refugees, said Paula Yacoubian, who spearheaded the media campaign.
Building on last year's successful campaign, which provided support to 14,000 Lebanese and Syrian families, "we re-issued our appeal this year because we sensed that the Lebanese people are eager to help", she told Al-Mashareq.
Thousands donated "more than one million pieces of clothing for males, females and children of all ages", she said. "We also received thousands of wool blankets, as well as home furniture and food items."
"All that we collected was sorted by hundreds of volunteers and loaded aboard trucks that headed towards the poorest areas," she added.
The Dafa Campaign "exceeded expectations" and collected enough to help more than 50,000 Lebanese and Syrian families get through the winter, she said.
Aid also will be distributed to Lebanese families hosting Syrian refugees, she said, explaining that this method of distribution was chosen as those hosting refugee families know best what is needed.