The Syrian conflict has devastated the lives of those still living in the country and those who have fled, but it is also taking a heavy toll on other countries in the region. Chief amongst these is Lebanon, where Relief Web news reports that the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) is now registering 2,500 new refugees every day. A million refugees would be difficult to cope with even for a big country, but for a small nation, like Lebanon, it is close to impossible.
In fact, Syrian refugees now equal almost a quarter of the resident population. According to António Guterres, UN High Commissioner for Refugees, this is the highest concentration of refugees anywhere in recent history. So far the Lebanese people have been extremely accommodating of those fleeing the war in Syria, but it is not clear how long the country's infrastructure can cope with the increased demand.
The strain that the country is under is clear across most key public services. Hospitals and clinics are drastically overcrowded and sanitation services have not been able to manage the increased number of users. Just as worrying is the economic impact of the crisis, which has cost Lebanon an estimated $2.5 billion in 2013 according to the World Bank and led to a sharp drop in wages. This strain is affecting refugees and residents alike, and is particularly apparent in the nation's schools.
With almost half of the refugees being children, schools across Lebanon have been struggling to cope with the 100,000 extra students they have taken on. This has an impact on the education quality for all involved, but particularly on the 300,000 other child refugees who cannot get a place and are missing out on vital education. Ninnette Kelley, UNHCR representative in Lebanon, stresses that these children will be the ones to shape Syria's future, so it is essential that they get the education and training they need.
More help needed
Though it is increasing, the aid given to Lebanon to help it support the refugee population has been far less than is required. In 2013 an appeal by the UN and partner agencies called for $1.89 billion dollars to be pledged for 2014, but have only received $242 million so far. In light of the landmark figure of one million refugees, Guterres has called on the international community to renew its commitment and reinforce this fragile situation.
The strain on infrastructure as well as the drop in wages is already leading to increased tension, so this assistance is needed now. Just as importantly, long-term support will be necessary to help Lebanon recover from this crisis and get back to normal if and when the violence in Syria is over.
We are supporting Syrian children in Lebanon
We have two projects in Lebanon which specifically work to meet the needs of Syrian refugees. In Khenchara, we are providing care for unaccompanied children, who have entered Lebanon from Syria with no family. We are also supporting families in the region who are looking after unaccompanied children.
In the Beka'a region and close to Ksarnaba, Syrian refugees are living in informal tented settlements. Here, we are meeting pressing needs in nutrition and health, as well as providing child-friendly spaces for children suffering from trauma. We hope to build a school here once we have addressed the most urgent issues facing refugee families.
SOS Children is working to help those worst affected by the crisis in Syria. We are providing shelter and food to vulnerable families and helping children return to school. Find how you can help.