Friday, June 21, 2013

Final field trip

I was thrilled to get out of the office on Wednesday to help the WASH (water, sanitation and hygiene) team document the 'before' situations of a couple of the informal tented settlements they'll be working in. It's very useful to catalogue what facilities the sites have and what the needs are, so that when the work is under way and completed they can refer back to the document and photos to see exactly what improvements have been made.

There are over 270 tented settlements scattered across Lebanon. As there are no formal refugee camps established (other than the Palestinian camps that have been here for 60+ years) and the rental prices continue to increase, many families are moving into improvised shelters, made with wooden frames or bits of scrap material covered in things like plastic sheetings, cement bags, blankets or strips of hessian. Some of the sites are on government owned land, in other cases, Lebanese land owners are allowing refugees to stay. Sometimes they pay rent, sometimes they provide labour in exchange, sometimes it's free.

Some shelters are larger than others, and house a lot of people:
This room for example sleeps 12 people. While it looks quite spacious during the daylight, you can imagine how stuffy and awkward this would be at night, particularly as the weather gets hotter. It's too hot inside the tent during the day, but luckily there is a big shady tree outside where the families can sit. 
There was a small patch of concrete inside the 'tent' which they had converted into a bathing room. The rest of the flooring where they sleep is gravel underneath the mats and they're having problems with rats. 
There were 5 families living in this settlement and they were really struggling. They had managed to construct a toilet for themselves, with a 'superstructure' made from an old water tank. While this was a big improvement on having to defecate in the shrubbery nearby, it still isn't completely private. The women have to go to the bathroom in pairs, so one woman can block the opening. Men will whistle or call out that they are in there. 
At the second site the shelters were generally smaller, and the facilities were also extremely poor. We were told that while there were a few toilets, the tanks were full so they were unusable. They have to defecate in the open, which is a real problem for the women, as they never have any privacy; "there are always men around."
One particular family had improvised with their roofing:
(It's a large promo poster for Star Trek.) This particular settlement has approximately 100 families living in it. My organisation will help provide them with better access to water, improved sanitation facilities, and also hygiene supplies and education on keeping clean with minimal supplies, all to reduce the potential for public health diseases, and of course, to improve the quality of life. We'll also provide an information and referral service, so that the people living in these settlements can find out what agencies can provide them with, their entitlements and rights. 

It's a pretty awful situation to be in, no matter what, but if we can help make it that bit more bearable and safe, then that's a good thing. 

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