Falling temps menace Syrian war refugees

New York Times News Service /

MDOUKHA, Lebanon — The winds spilling down off snow-covered Mount Hermon, bearing the first nip of winter, rattled the broken windows of an abandoned elementary school here where Syrian refugees are huddled in this Bekaa Valley hamlet.

Hundreds of thousands of Syrians displaced by the war, many of them stumbling out of Syria during the summer wearing little more than T-shirts and flip-flops, now face the onslaught of winter with inadequate shelter, senior government officials and aid organizations say. “It will be winter outside and winter inside,” said Mohamed Khair al-Oraiby, a burly 27-year-old who fled here over the summer with his wife and two infants. “We already wake up early because it is so cold.”

With temperatures already plunging to zero overnight in the hills framing this valley, the humanitarian crisis facing millions of displaced Syrians is deepening. The inability of international aid groups to cope with the crisis, which has mushroomed in recent months, is partly a question of access to war zones.

More than 400,000 people have fled Syria, and 1.2 million have been driven from their homes within the country, according to the U.N. refugee agency. Some 2.5 million people need humanitarian assistance, and the number keeps climbing. The United Nations said it had reached only 1 million of them.

But efforts have also been hampered by lack of resources. The United Nations is seeking some $487 million for refugees across the region, of which about 35 percent has been collected.

“The capacity of the international donor community to support the crisis is not happening at the same speed at which the crisis is unfolding,” said Panos Moumtzis, the regional coordinator for the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees.