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Hygiene packages shall prevent the outbreak of Covid-19 in the refugee camps

15. June 2020 - Libanon
When almost twice as many people live in an area that is just half the size of Saxony, it doesn't sound as if it is particularly easy to keep distance. Especially when almost every fourth inhabitant is a refugee and has often lived for years in cramped conditions, overcrowded camps or temporary shelters. Since the civil war broke out in Syria nine years ago, Lebanon has been the country with the highest number of refugees in the world compared to the total population. The country also has the third largest national debt and is currently experiencing massive domestic political and social tensions. And now Corona.

"The Corona pandemic is hitting Lebanon in one of its most difficult hours ever," says our colleague Muriel Schockenhoff, who works for arche noVa in Tripoli. Since last October the country has been experiencing anti-government protests again and again. Even back then, people took to the streets because the economic situation was miserable, the currency continued to lose value and prices rose. People no longer see any prospects at all, as the economy has been in a steady decline since the outbreak of the Syrian war in 2011.

"You don't really know where to start and where to stop to explain how the situation in Lebanon currently looks," says Muriel Schockenhoff. The economic impact of the Corona pandemic is catastrophic - and this in a country that has been on the limit for years. "You have to imagine that the people here are fighting for survival," Schockenhoff emphasizes. The distress not only affects the approximately 1.5 million Syrian refugees, but also the Lebanese families.

arche noVa is now mainly providing emergency aid in Lebanon, which is still temporarily affected by total lockdowns with draconian penalties of up to 1500 dollars. As many people are no longer allowed to work due to the curfews or have already lost their jobs before because of the critical economic situation, the basic necessities are missing. Therefore arche noVa distributes food packages to suffering Syrian, Palestinian and Lebanese families. Furthermore, it is important to keep the relatively low number of about 1388 registered cases of corona infection and 30 causal deaths as low as possible and to prevent the virus from spreading to the refugee camps.
For this reason, arche noVa has been cooperating with the Lebanese Red Cross since March, as this organisation is a reliable local partner in the health context, has the most up-to-date data and was therefore able to identify the most needy population groups very quickly. According to this, the needs are particularly high in the region of Akkar in northern Lebanon. From the outset, the most important strategy was to stop the spread of the virus by distributing several thousand packets of cleaning and disinfecting products.  Every family - whether locals or refugees - received not just soap and hand disinfectants, but also shower gel, shampoo, washing powder, washing-up liquid, sponges and rubbish bags.

"We are very happy that we received these hygiene packages, they came just in time," says a happy Abou Yeerob, a Syrian resident of the Al-Semmakiye camp in Akkar.

In fact, the focus on hygiene products is so far unique in Lebanon. "arche noVa is the only organisation that has distributed this kind of parcel. Other aid organisations only have simple soap and food - which are also urgently needed - but no one else has such a comprehensive hygiene kit like arche noVa's," says Ghassan Hanna of the Lebanese Red Cross in Qobayat.

And the recipients show their gratitude, especially since a large part of the distribution took place during Ramadan - a time traditionally characterized by thinking of one's neighbor in need. But support is still needed well beyond the end of the month of fasting.

"We hope to get a second delivery, because Corona is not over yet," says Bilal Shamma, head of administration of Al-Semmakiye in Akkar. "The delivery came at just the right time, with the most important hygiene items you need and in excellent quality. I have heard only good things from the Lebanese housewives who used the cleaning and washing products," praises Bilal Shamma.

In contrast to the successful hygiene measures in the north of Lebanon, the situation for the pupils and teachers of the schools in the Beeka Plain, which are supported with Saxon tax funds, has been extremely difficult for months. "Since mid-March, the schools have been closed due to the lockdown. Although the teachers are now continuing lessons online, not everyone can be reached. Less than half of the children from refugee families have a smartphone and even fewer have a computer," reports our Middle East expert Wolfram Lorenz. But the teachers, who are also financed with money from Saxony in our project, are creative and make every effort to maintain very intensive virtual contact with their classes using all technical possibilities - as far as this is possible with curfew and isolation measures.

The Lebanese Ministry of Education is very attentive to ensure that the education deficit - which is already large for many children due to flight and difficult living conditions - does not grow disproportionately. Even though the schools will not open before the summer, it is planned to expand digital distance learning nationwide and possibly extend the teaching week to six days. What will be available in September, when the school will finally start again in the Beeka Plain, are disinfectant dispensers, face masks and information brochures about the corona virus. arche noVa takes care of this also thanks to the renewed support of the Saxon State Chancellery. Since 2017 the school project in Beeka is co-financed by tax money on the basis of the budget passed by the Saxon State Parliament.

portrait of Wolfram Lorenz

"Knowing the right hygiene measures and practising them in everyday life is also important for the students supported by us, especially at this time, in order to prevent infections and stay healthy."

Wolfram Lorenz - Desk Officer Middle East

And as long as the civil war in Syria is not over and the danger of the corona virus is not averted, help for the people in Lebanon is needed.

"I would like to say that I am pleased that there are people in Germany who are interested in other countries and who look beyond their own national horizons. Especially in times like these, it is important that we do not lose focus and that we can perhaps reflect back. And that, despite all the restrictions, we learn to appreciate social values more highly again and try to defend this value system even under adverse circumstances," emphasizes our colleague Muriel Schockenhoff.

If you want to support the work of arche noVa in Lebanon, you can donate here.

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