BAR ELIAS, Lebanon: The United Kingdom is donating 5 million pounds ($8.3 million) to a U.N. agency working with Syrian refugees in Lebanon, but instead of being for the refugees themselves, the money is earmarked for host communities affected by the crisis.
The new donation, which comes on top of more than $200 million the U.K. has already given, will help fund a United Nations Development Program project in the country’s poorest areas, targeting basic public services that are collapsing due to the presence of nearly 1 million refugees.
“We will now be diverting an increasing amount toward the ... Lebanese communities, the host communities whose schools, whose hospitals, whose medical centers need that extra support in the period ahead,” U.K. Ambassador Tom Fletcher said during a tour of a busy municipality-run health clinic in the Bekaa Valley’s Bar Elias.
“I want to recognize the extraordinary generosity shown by the people of Lebanon. ... But we recognize that generosity alone is not enough, and that the international community must do its part in helping [Lebanese] to respond to this challenge,” he said.
Bar Elias is home to 70,000 Syrian refugees, in addition to a local population of around 45,000, and, as with many places elsewhere in the country, the strain is beginning to show.
“The refugee crisis is affecting the health sector because the number of Syrian patients is outstripping the number of Lebanese patients,” said Dr. Hussein Hamad, director of the clinic, which offers treatment to women and children.
“We get about 100-120 patients a day and we have only four pediatricians and three gynecologists. The increase in the number of patients has not affected the quality of our work, but it has put a lot of pressure on us.”
UNDP’s Host Communities Program is intended to improve services at a governmental level, working with municipalities identified as being the most vulnerable in order to improve and extend services such as health care, waste disposal, the water network, education and shelter.
“This support will provide long-term benefits to host communities and all beneficiaries – whether Lebanese or Syrian,” Fletcher told The Daily Star, adding that “these interventions will be durable and provide a lasting legacy for the most affected communities.”
In the corridors of the small clinic, small, teary-eyed children watched as Fletcher, accompanied by U.N. Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator and UNDP Representative Ross Mountain and the agency’s Deputy Country Director Shombi Sharp greeted parents queuing up to have their kids examined.
One of the pediatricians, Shamdeen Araji, agreed that the burden on the clinic, where the walls are peeling and the equipment is basic, was growing.
“We are seeing a very high number of patients now. Usually it’s tough but with the influx of Syrians it’s getting harder,” he said.
Upstairs, Fletcher, Mountain and Sharp were shown an empty story of the building, which the municipality wants to turn into an emergency clinic, exactly the sort of project that UNDP’s program could fund.
“The U.N. system in Lebanon is here for Lebanon,” Mountain said. “We are very much preoccupied by the importance of supporting communities like this that are on the front line of the influx.”