A Save the Children staff member delivers kits door to door in Beirut.

Turning Empty Tents into Isolation Units for Communities Facing COVID 19 in Lebanon

FAIRFIELD, Conn. (April 27, 2020) - With COVID-19 cases having been registered among refugee and local communities in Lebanon, Save the Children and its partners are refurbishing a restaurant, a factory and seven other buildings so they can be used as isolation centers. It is also turning empty tents in refugee settlements in the Bekaa valley into isolation units, so that patients can self-isolate within the camps.

Thousands of vulnerable families are set to face the coronavirus outbreak with little means in a country that is already suffering from a crippling economic crisis.

Save the Children’s teams in the Bekaa valley, bordering Syria, will refurbish the nine abandoned buildings before handing them over to the Ministry of Health, which will turn them into temporary health facilities for up to 1,000 COVID-19 patients, Lebanese as well as Syrian and Palestinian refugees.

The international humanitarian agency is also transforming tents into isolation units in 218 informal settlements, that are home to 45,500 refugees, and will provide local communities with information on how to manage an outbreak including on hygiene measures, symptom monitoring and contact tracing and isolation. With more than 70 percent of refugees in Lebanon living under the poverty line in overcrowded conditions, self-isolation is virtually impossible.

"Some tents were empty because refugees moved to another site or can’t afford to pay the rent for the land they are set up on,” said Jad Sakr, Save the Children’s acting country director in Lebanon. “Turning them into isolation units allows adults who are infected with Coronavirus to remain close to their family, especially if they are the sole caretaker of several children.”

“So far, five cases have been confirmed among refugees in a Palestinian camp in Lebanon. But we can’t wait for a full outbreak that would spread like wildfire in settlements with no means for social distancing or isolation, limited access to clean water or no purchasing power to buy soap and disinfectants. We need to act now, before it’s too late,” Sakr added.

The economic crisis that hit Lebanon in October 2019 has been compounded by the COVID-19 lockdown since March 2020, grinding the country to a halt and leading to school closures. The local Lebanese Pound depreciated by 63 percent on the informal market, eroding people’s purchasing power.

For many Lebanese and Syrian families who are unemployed, healthcare access has become a challenge. In these circumstances, children are at increased risk of child labor[3], which reduces their chances of returning to school when they reopen.

“If one person gets infected, we are worried that the whole camp will be at risk,” said Jihad*, 42, a Syrian refugee living in the Bekaa valley. “Some people are spending the little they have on masks and disinfectants. It has become more important than food. My neighbor told me that his family have been having tea and bread for dinner for the past three nights. Young girls are working on the farm for $2.50 a day to help provide for families here.”

“I have two daughters, aged 21 and 16, with sickle cell anemia who underwent surgeries. They are supposed to visit the hospital regularly for follow-up treatment, but we can’t do that because we fear they might catch coronavirus,” said Salma*, 44, a Lebanese mother of four recently became unemployed with her husband. “One of the medicines they have to take costs $50 and we can’t afford it anymore.”

As part of its response to the COVID-1919 outbreak, Save the Children in Lebanon aims to provide cash assistance for over 2,100 Lebanese, Syrian and Palestinian families, multipurpose kits for more than 32,000 families, and shelter improvement for 980 Syrian refugee families. So far, teams of Save the Children staff have run remote awareness raising sessions, reaching more than 41,000 people, including 25,000 children.

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