Infrastructure lacking in south Lebanon host communities

By Nohad Topalian in Beirut

Syrian refugee children stand outside their tent at Marj al-Khokh, an informal camp in Jdeidet Marjayoun in southern Lebanon. [Nohad Topalian/Al-Mashareq]

Syrian refugee children stand outside their tent at Marj al-Khokh, an informal camp in Jdeidet Marjayoun in southern Lebanon. [Nohad Topalian/Al-Mashareq]

A delegation of senior Lebanese and international officials recently visited southern Lebanon to assess the impact of the Syrian refugee crisis in that area.

The May 16th tour brought Minister of State for Refugee Affairs Moein al-Merehbi, UN resident and humanitarian co-ordinator Philippe Lazzarini and Economic and Social Fund for Development managing director Haitham Omar to the city of Tyre, the towns of Shebaa and Kfarshoub in Arqoub region, and Marj al-Khokh, an informal camp in Jdeidet Marjayoun.

In Shebaa, more than 10,000 Syrians displaced from the town of Beit Jinn and its surrounding farms have found shelter in homes and rooms since the Syrian conflict began, said municipal chief Mohammed Saab.

"We are a poor agricultural community, and the town suffered from a severe shortage of infrastructure, such as sewage, water and roads even before the Syrian refugee [crisis]," he said.

"Today we need the infrastructure rehabilitated [to cope] with the tremendous pressure placed on it, as well as development projects to develop the town and the Arqoub region," he added.

The municipality does what it can to help the refugees, he said, noting that "the relationship between residents and the refugees is good and amicable".

Difficult conditions

Syrian refugee Fatima al-Khalil Hamada told Al-Mashareq she has been living in Shebaa for the past three years with her three orphaned grandchildren.

"Residents are helping me despite their difficult circumstances," she said.

Shebaa's public school currently serves 700 Syrian and 400 Lebanese students, according to school principal Hatem Ghanem, who told the delegation it is in need of renovation and requested that support be provided for Syrian students.

In Marj al-Khokh camp, about 1,500 refugees from Idlib province are sheltering in about 200 tents.

"Three families, or about 15 people of all ages, live in one tent amid leaking brackish water," Syrian refugee Khalidiya Mohammed al-Jarf said of the camp.

"Although we received assistance from international organisations, there is still a great need for water, electricity and education for our children," she said.

Infrastructure lacking

"The tour revealed to us the magnitude of the very difficult health, environmental and social problems they are facing," al-Merhebi said.

"We learned from the insights presented by the municipal chiefs and host communities that their problems centre on infrastructure," he told Al-Mashareq.

Major concerns include water scarcity and a lack of sewage networks and waste management, which leads to contamination of water, groundwater wells and agricultural lands due to the flow of sewage from informal camps, he said.

The informal camps are not equipped with a source of clean water or a sewage treatment plant, al-Merhebi said.

"To this end, we discussed with the municipality of Jdeidet Marjayoun the possibility of moving the Marj al-Khokh camp to a location that does not cause damage to them and the groundwater," he said.

Al-Merhebi said the government aims to improve conditions for all host communities in Lebanon, with the understanding that if conditions improve for Lebanese, they will improve for Syrian refugees.

Increased support

"We found that all host communities in Lebanon suffer from infrastructure, water pollution, sewage and waste management-related problems," Lazzarini said.

Everything the municipal chiefs and host communities asked for can be considered "urgent needs, and necessitate that we, as a UN organisation, follow up on and increase the support we provide", he said.

"We hold periodic meetings with the Minister of State for Refugee Affairs to set the regional priorities and the sectors in which to invest," he said.

"Our priority is focused on about 300 host communities in northern Lebanon, the Bekaa Valley, and the south," Lazzarini said.

A financial mechanism has been developed with the World Bank to obtain low interest loans, and Lebanon is entitled to a number of them to rehabilitate infrastructure, road networks, water, sanitation and the health sector, he added.

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My name is Bassel Mustafa Mustafa. I'm from Afrain, Rif Aleppo, Syria. I'm a Kurd, and right now I live in Lebanon. I'm married and have a child with a disability. I don't have the money to treat him. I have no financial resources here, and therefore, I want to immigrate from here.