The Akkar region in the far north of Lebanon, where Concern is working, can experience harsh weather conditions. With an average altitude of 700m, winter temperatures can drop as low as -10⁰C, and heavy rain and snow are frequent.
Because of its proximity to Syria, over 100,000 refugees have temporarily settled in Akkar, which is made up of largely rural communities. But a high refugee population means limited choice - forcing many into accepting cheap, inadequate and poor shelter. Over 40 per cent of the refugee population in Akkar live in temporary or non-residential accommodation – well above the national average.
Despite having a chronic health condition, fifty-six-year-old Sania* and her husband Wahid*, 66, inhabit one such place in the Akkar region - a petrol station storeroom that was once filled with car tyres and containers of engine oil. The couple were forced to move into the single basic room with an adjoining toilet after falling into rent arrears.
“We came to Lebanon on our own about four years ago,” said Wahid. “We fled Syria after our home was destroyed. We left with nothing.
“We moved into this accommodation because we couldn’t pay the rent in the last place - it was too expensive. It is cheaper here.”
But a more affordable rent, often means having to lower expectations. A worsening economic situation in Lebanon means that more and more people like Sania and Wahid have little choice but to live in unfinished, uninhabitable and uninsulated buildings.
“If we hadn’t been forced to move, we wouldn’t have come here,” admitted Wahid. “The bathroom wasn’t good at all. There was no toilet, just a squat latrine, which was difficult for us with our arthritis. We didn’t have a water heater, so it wasn’t good.”
A few months later, Concern stepped in to help make vital improvements to the couple’s home and lives. Broken windows were repaired, and a new toilet and electric water heater were installed, as well as a rent freeze negotiated for 12 months. They now have a stove to heat the room and tell us that they wrap up well with blankets and wear layers to keep warm.
“It is much better and more comfortable now,” said Wahid. “The changes have helped a lot.”