UNICEF Lebanon is providing winter items to a total of 478,000 vulnerable Syrian, Lebanese, and Palestine refugee children in the country this year, to help cope with the harsh conditions. This includes clothes for 130,000 children, blankets for households, tarpaulins, vouchers for clothing, fuel for heating, flood mitigation measures, with a budget of USD 11.5 million
By Miriam Azar
BEIRUT, 14th February 2015 – The air is ice cold as displaced Syrian mothers, fathers, daughters and sons gather eagerly around the truck stationed in front of an informal settlement set in the snow-covered Bekaa Valley in Lebanon.
Anxious parents clutch a voucher with a customized bar code that allows them to pick up the correct number of winter clothing boxes per child, with each box organized by age. The bar code is part of an innovative system being used – for the first time by UNICEF – to ensure distributions are accurate and efficient.
Each kit contains a winter jacket, scarf, woollen hat, gloves, jumper, trousers, warm underclothes, socks, and waterproof boots packed per age for children between 0 and 14 years.
For vulnerable children living in higher altitudes and especially for those in flimsy tents, receiving these warm items is essential. This winter, Lebanon has been hit by a couple of snow storms, with 2015 witnessing one of the most violent snow storms in years.
Awash and her family’s first winter in a tent
Awash, a mother of four young children, collects four boxes and balances them on her side as she walks through the snow covered path towards her makeshift home.
This is the family’s first winter in a tent. She and her family have been in Lebanon for seven months.
“We came here from Syria unwillingly,” Awash explains. “Its very cold, difficult for the children.”
Tents make feeble shelters from the snowstorm, fierce winds, and heavy rainfall. Families are afraid that their makeshift roof may collapse on them under the weight of the snow and the pressure of the hurling winds.
During the worst snowfall, Awash’s husband and eldest son had to climb up regularly to shovel snow off the roof of their tent.
“The roof would have fallen on us if we hadn’t done so”, Awash says.
Struggling to survive
While they have to pay $130 USD in rent for the tent every month, no-one in the family currently works. Her husband, an elderly man of 60 years of age, has not been able to find work, while the eldest son is only seven years of age. All the support they get is from the UN and partner NGOs.
“If it wasn’t for this (UN) aid, we would have been hopeless,” says Awash.
Winter clothes for children
“The most important thing is to keep them (children) safe during the winter snow,” Awash says. “We didn’t have proper clothes, thank God we just received these (winter kits).”
The children rummage through the boxes, taking out the new clothes rustling in their nylon packages. Amani, the youngest – only 11 months old – is fascinated by the crackling sound of the plastic.
Keeping vulnerable children warm and safe during the winter is a priority. It is these children – living in exposed areas and high altitudes – that UNICEF is aiming to reach through its implementing partners like Beyond Association.
Using innovative technology to reach children quickly and accurately
To improve the efficiency and accuracy of distributions of winter items, UNICEF Lebanon recently launched the UNISupply platform. This provides real-time information: UNICEF and its partners can also check online the number of households and children that have received winter kits, the appropriate clothing sizes that need to be distributed, and a mapping of which informal settlements have been assessed and where kits have been distributed.
For the dire conditions, this technology has proven key in distributing faster and better than before.
But this is not enough.
“As UNICEF we have distributed winter clothes kits, and we are also providing fuel to all schools, so that the most vulnerable children can benefit from this,” said UNICEF Lebanon Representative Annamaria Laurini. “Winter is not over, and help needs to come fast, because we are not able to reach and cover every child.”
“The winter clothes kits have been procured with funding from the U.S. Department of State (BPRM) and UNISupply was made possible with funding from the Government and People of Japan. “