The COVID-19 pandemic has transformed the way we live and interact. In 2020, most countries struggled to protect their citizens and economies. In such times, few have the resources to help the people who are in-between countries and ultimately in no man’s land; the refugees.
This is why Water for All during the spring of 2020 agreed on a joint venture with the Peter Wallenberg Water for All Foundation to help provide water, sanitation and hygiene in a tent settlement for Syrian refugees in Lebanon called Zahle. The 8-months project has been done together with the Red Cross and aims to mitigate the risk for the refugees to be infected with the coronavirus. If COVID-19 were to spread in these sorts of crowded settlements the consequences would be dire, both in terms of an increased risk of being infected as well as lack of access to healthcare.
“COVID-19 is a global threat putting the lives of already vulnerable people in even greater danger. It requires a global response and global solidarity. We thank the Peter Wallenberg Water for All Foundation and all the engaged employees from Water for All for their support. Access to water and good sanitation and hygiene is vital to mitigate the risk for refugees to be infected with the coronavirus”, says Sofia Calltorp, International Director of Swedish Red Cross.
Water for All organizations in 11 countries on three continents answered the invite to be part of this endeavor. In just one week in May 2020 we managed to raise one million SEK (EUR 94 500) to match the donation from the Peter Wallenberg Water for All Foundation. In the end we raised more money than originally asked for and the project was thus possible to extend in order to reach even more refugees.
Initially the project was meant to end in January 2021, however, due to the very serious situation in Lebanon, the Red Cross has been forced to address the overall humanitarian and financial crisis in the country. The project is now meant to be finalized by March 31, 2021.
The 2020 Vulnerability Assessment of Syrian Refugees in Lebanon found that 9 out of 10 Syrian refugee families in Lebanon are living in extreme poverty, where households continue to lack enough resources to cover their basic needs. WASH programs in particular have proven crucial and joint efforts similar to those undertaken by Water for All are therefore gamechangers in the day to day quality of life of Syrian refugees in Lebanon.
The COVID-19 situation
The first case of COVID-19 in Lebanon was detected in February 2020. While the pandemic was initially well contained up to early summer 2020, it began to spiral out of the control in August, following the Beirut explosion and the collective rescue efforts that were seen in its aftermath. By early March 2021, COVID-19 cases in Lebanon were the highest reported in the region with Lebanon an average of 3000 cases reported per day.
The volatile situation of refugees in the country was flagged early on by the World Health Organization, which outlined that the living conditions of most refugees (density of residents in the camps/informal tent settlements, poor infrastructure and inadequate sanitary conditions), meant that they were at a higher risk to be infected with COVID-19.
As no COVID-19 cases are systematically reported for informal tent settlements in Lebanon, it is difficult to know for certain if any residents in the project area have been infected. This being said, the support from Water for All has no matter what improved the refugees' ability to avoid infection and to stay safe.