WFP Assistance Eases Growing Expenses on Syrian Refugees

Syrian civilians have been fleeing violence in their home country to neighbouring Lebanon. Having spent most of their savings, life has not been easy on many families despite immense efforts to provide them with humanitarian assistance. They worry of rent expenses and an approaching winter, known to be harsh in the areas where there is a heavy presence of Syrian families; the north and the Bekaa Valley. However, at least food is one thing less to worry about.

Bekaa Valley, LEBANON -- Isam Ali Chmali, came to Baalbeck in the Bekaa Valley with his wife, three sons and a school-age daughter, fleeing Zabadani in Rural Damascus.  Since their arrival, they have been receiving WFP food assistance as part of an emergency operation that targets 55,000 Syrian refugees in Lebanon at the moment. In Lebanon, WFP aims to gradually scale up to reach 120,000 Syrians by the end of the year.

“I used to have a grocery store in Zabadani, but my store is now partially damaged and I cannot go back,” says Isam who has been looking for a job in Lebanon since he arrived nine month ago to no avail. “My son works here to pay the rent. Nothing is left for the food. Without the food vouchers we get from WFP each month, we cannot survive.”

More than 46,000 Syrian are registered in Lebanon. The majority of them are from Homs and Rural Damascus. WFP provides each Syrian refugee with a monthly voucher valued at US$31. The food vouchers can be redeemed against a list of items like fresh produce such as dairy products and eggs that are not normally included in conventional food rations. 

“WFP’s food assistance is the only consistent and regular assistance that Syrian refugees receive,” says WFP Head of the Bekaa sub-office Elena Bertola. “We coordinate with UNHCR (UN Refugee Agency) to distribute our food assistance and their non-food items simultaneously at the distribution site.”

Many refugees in Lebanon are hosted by Lebanese families, but a growing number of them had to rent small apartments paying between US$100 and US$300 a month. Recently, a growing number of Syrian families are being asked by their Lebanese hosts to contribute to the rent expenses.

“A Lebanese family was so kind to give us a space in their house for free for the past five months, and I am grateful, but they are now asking me to pay the rent like everyone else,” says Sumaya Ayouch from Homs who lives in Arsal village in the Bekaa Valley. “So far, they are very kind and are not being pushy but soon I will have to pay.”

The high living cost in Lebanon is however a burden weighing on both communities.

“The people of the Bekaa are equally poor, but despite their poverty, they do help us whenever they can,” Isam says. “They sometimes share some of their harvest with us, others gave us cooking utensils, but they cannot do more,” says Isam.

A rapid assessment conducted in April found that the vast majority of Syrians in Lebanon had spent all their savings and depend entirely on humanitarian assistance to meet their food needs. Almost 75 percent of them are women and children.