Some of the worst winter weather to hit the eastern Mediterranean region in years has Syrians in refugee camps saying the biggest threat to them now is the cold – more than the war. Snow and rain is making conditions worse for everyone in make-shift shelters.
But the main cities have also had trouble with the snow, and combat dangers made the World Food Programme decide to take its staff out of Homs, Aleppo, Tartous and Qamisly.
Bread and flour supplies are disrupted; wheat mills have been damaged in the fighting. Distribution of relief goods is also made precarious by the shortage of fuel.
The World Food Programme said 2.5 million people in Syria urgently need help, and that geographical, logistical and other practical obstacles still make it impossible to reach one million of them.
Those who fled their homes while the weather was mild are among the poorest-equipped to deal with the steadily low and dropping temperatures.
The number of refugees has leapt past the 500,000 mark this last month, the UN said, and it is growing by some 3,000 every day. They have sought refuge in neighbouring Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and Iraq. This is in addition to the 2.5 million displaced within Syria itself.
Plastic sheeting, tarpaulins and cardboard give minimal protection from the wind and rain for camp dwellers in Lebanon.
A father holding two small children said: ‘‘We don’t have a heater. We are just burning sticks that we pick up. We wrap ourselves in blankets but it’s cold, really cold – so last night we couldn’t sleep… with the wind and the rain getting in.’‘
A mother said: “The children are dying: shivering, hungry and thirsty. Look what has happened to us.’‘
In some camps there may be just one doctor to see to everybody – or none. A reliable water supply is rare, next to no sanitary arrangements. There is nearly no electricity, and food is hard to come by.