Storm “Alexa”, the worst storm to hit the Middle East in decades began on Wednesday, December 11, bringing high winds, blizzards and freezing temperatures and significant snowfall to areas of Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Israel, the Palestinian territories and Egypt. Cities such as Cairo, which hadn’t see snow in over 112 years were caught unprepared for the hardships caused by the storm.
By Saturday the storm had brought more snow, rain and below freezing temperatures, taking a disproportionate toll on the 2.3 million refugees living outside Syria and the 6.5 million people displaced within the country.
The city of Homs, once a splendid city peacefully conquered by army general, Khalid bin al Waleed (RadiyAllaahu ‘anhu) during the rule of Raashidoon Khalif, ‘Umar bin Khattab (RadiyAllaahu ‘anhu), now lays blanketed in snow- a Winter wasteland.
More than twenty Syrians, most of them children, were killed as a result of the snowstorm in Syria and neighboring countries.
Biting cold and heavy rain beset Zaatari camp, where more than 120,000 Syrians have sought shelter in the previous months.
In Lebanon, more than 835,000 Syrians live in tents, unused buildings or with friends or family. UNICEF said needs were outpacing what it and its partners could provide.
In Turkey, authorities distributed extra blankets and winter clothes to many of the 206,000 Syrian refugees at camps along the border, said Mustafa Aydogdu, spokesman for the prime minister’s disaster relief agency AFAD.
The Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR) said that no fewer than 22 people died in Syria last week, including nine children, from sub-zero temperatures as lengthy power shortages were recorded.
SNHR said six newborn babies and an elderly woman died in displacement camps and asylum in Syria and Turkey. Four children, died in the camp for displaced people near the town of Jarablos Manbej city of Aleppo province, near the border with Turkey.
Freezing temperatures and continued power outages caused the deaths of two children at camp “Urfa 1″ in Turkey. It was also reported that an elderly woman died in a camp in the Golan Idlib after the collapse of the tents under the snow.
Medical workers in Aleppo rose to the challenge, treating hypothermia and other cold-borne illness.
The human rights watchdog documented many cases of death because of freezing temperatures in Aleppo central prison; “We couldn’t have the exact number and names up to this moment,” the Syrian Network said.
SNHR reported also 3 death cases in Homs, two in Houla village and one girl infant in al-Wa’er neighborhood.
The Syrian National Coalition announced the death of a baby in Aleppo because of the cold, along with the death of a 5 year old child in Rastan, Homs, and reports said that two Syrian refugees in Lebanon who died because of the harsh cold.
In Lebanon, Al Jazeera’s correspondent said that a child was killed in the town of Akrum, northern Lebanon, while suffering refugees in camps in random areas of the Bekaa difficult humanitarian situations in the light of the scarcity of aid and government deficits.
A few miles from the border in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley, more than 1,000 people live in rudimentary shelters.
Refugee Ibrahim, 27, spoke in his tent where the dirt floor had turned to mud and strong winds blew snow in the entrance. Children gathered in one corner around a fire in a metal crate.
“We came here in the winter but it would have been better if we had stayed in Syria. At least if you die, you die in your own house,” he said.
In the Lebanese town of Minieh, just outside the port city of Tripoli, a muddy, makeshift collection of tents and shacks spills down from the side of the highway to the coast. children dug rocks out of the ground with their hands to weigh down plastic sheeting that covered their tents. The tarpaulins nailed to wooden frames provide poor shelter in driving rain and wind.
Children are particularly vulnerable, the sub-zero temperatures exposing them to pneumonia and a host of other deadly respiratory diseases.
“We are very concerned about the implications that the cold could have on lives of child refugees,” said Roberta Russo, a spokesman for the United Nations refugee agency.
“This snow is the first sign of the treacherous winter in the region that will only increase suffering for children and their families until March,” the charity said in a recent appeal. “Between November and February, temperatures can drop as low as minus six and with over two million refugees in the region. One million of them children”.
The Colours of Hope Organisation in association with Gift of the Givers will be launching a Blanket Drive on January 13 In-shaa-Allah. We have opened our hearts and pockets to the Syria Stationery Drive, lets do it again for the Syria blanket Drive. More details to follow In-shaa-Allah.