The Federal Foreign Office is funding a new type of insulation material for Syrian refugees’ tents in Lebanon. The material ensures a temperature difference of between 10 and 15 degrees Celsius in both hot and cold weather.
Dalal al‑Askar will never forget the first night after her family’s tent had been insulated. It was the first time that her three small children did not suffer from the cold. “It was much better,” the 26‑year‑old says. “We used to feel the wind as if we were outside. Now it’s warmer and not as draughty. And we no longer hear as much sound from the other families.”
Dalal al‑Askar has been living in Bar Elias in Lebanon for three years. The Syrian border is so close that you can see it. Dalal lives in a field with several hundred other refugees from Syria. In the winter, temperatures in this mountainous region around the Beqaa Valley fall to below freezing, and even in the spring it is not much more than four or five degrees Celsius after sunset. The fact that Dalal al‑Askar no longer needs to heat the tent at night is a great help to the family’s modest budget, which is comprised of UN aid and casual work by her husband.
Germany is one of the largest donors
The refugees’ tents have been fitted with an insulating layer by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). The aid organisation is co-funded by the Federal Foreign Office’s Directorate-General for Crisis Prevention, Stabilisation, Post-Conflict Peacebuilding and Humanitarian Assistance. Germany is one of the largest donors to the ICRC and the Lebanese Red Crescent Society. The aim is to ensure that refugees who want to stay close to their home are able to live in dignity.
The ICRC has insulated 6000 tents in the Beqaa Valley and 17,000 tents in Lebanon overall. Suleiman Bahlak of the Lebanese Red Crescent Society, who was responsible for carrying out the project on the ground, says it was difficult to find the right material. “Obviously, no firms make something like insulation material for tents,” he says. “We had to spend a long time experimenting.” The material had to be firm, non-flammable, easy to use and, above all, not too expensive. In the end, the choice was to use the thermoplastic material polyethylene, measuring 12 mm wide and lined with aluminium. “It works extremely well,” Bahlak says.
Humanitarian aid is stabilising the region
A temperature difference of between 10 and 15 degrees Celsius can be achieved for just 150 dollars per tent. And this works in both hot and cold weather. The high temperatures in the summer are also a problem for the refugees. The insulation material is attached relatively tightly to planks at the internal tent walls and lasts for several years. Aid organisations and donor countries such as Germany have had to think in the long term for quite some time, as the war in Syria has already been raging for six years. Lebanon, whose own population is only 4.5 million people, is currently home to 1.2 million Syrian refugees. This means that humanitarian aid does not only help to alleviate the suffering of the Syrian people, but also to ensure that Lebanon, which is already fragile, is not destabilised by the burden.
The refugees themselves have also realised that their temporary living situation in Lebanon will not be a short-term situation. Dalal al‑Askar, who comes from Raqqa, the stronghold of the terrorist militia “Islamic State”, has come to see her tent in the field in Bar Elias as something like home. In fact, her youngest son Hasham was born there. The tent has a small oven, and inexpensive carpets and mats line the floor. The family has set up a separate kitchen area with a gas cooker and an ancient and very noisy fridge at the back of their temporary accommodation. UNICEF has built simple latrines between the tents that can also be used as showers. Most Syrian children go to school in Bar Elias and the ICRC funds a small clinic where refugees receive medical care. Basic needs are met. However, this does not alleviate the homesickness felt by most Syrians, who talk constantly about their homes and fields. Dalal al‑Askar often thinks about Raqqa. “I pray every day that we can go back soon.”