Waiting out the winter in Lebanon

Syrian refugees in Sidon, Lebanon
Syrian refugees in Sidon, Lebanon. UNDP and UN-Habitat are helping refugees from Syria stay warm and survive the winter. Photo: S.Baldwin/UNHCR

Last winter was bitter for Hassan Ahmad and his family of 11. After they fled their home in Damascus, they found shelter in Lebanon, in a cramped two-room apartment with a leaky ceiling, no doors and no hot water.

"A relative of mine offered us these rooms," says Ahmad, whose Damascus home was destroyed by fighting. "But our kitchen and bath turn into an oven in the summer and a swamp in the winter."


  • More than 35,000 Palestinian refugees formally living in Syria have fled to neighbouring Lebanon.
  • 19 host gatherings and nine surrounding localities have been prepared for the winter.
  • 54 infrastructure projects in 22 of the most vulnerable Palestinian gatherings and seven surrounding towns are constructing water tanks, heaters, washbasins, and fully functioning latrines.
  • Project implemented by UNDP and UN-Habitat; and donors include Government of Germany, the Swiss Agency for Development and Coordination, and the US Department of State.

And since his son recently married, the tiny apartment in a neighborhood of other Palestinians refugees has begun to feel even more cramped.

Like Ahmad and his family, more than 35,000 Palestinians--and some Syrians--have sought refuge in Lebanon's 42 so-called Palestinian gatherings*, where the population has now reached 110,000. Originally built during the early years of the Palestinian exodus, which occurred between 1948 and 1950 - and during the Lebanese civil war from 1975 to 1990, the gatherings do not officially fall under the domain of any municipality. And with no authority providing infrastructure and services, the people living there are some of the most vulnerable host communities in the country.

Since 2012, UNDP and UN-Habitat have joined efforts to improve services, infrastructure and overall living conditions in these communities across Lebanon. So far, the project has helped rehabilitate and modernize more than 300 shelters in time for the bitter winter. They have now been outfitted with water tanks, heaters, washbasins, and fully functioning latrines. In addition to improving the shelters, 54 urgent infrastructure projects in 22 of the most vulnerable host communities and seven surrounding towns have improved the provision of water, sewage services, solid waste management, road networks, storm water drainage, and electricity.

“So far, we have helped over 2,000 refugees from Syria living in the most vulnerable gatherings to improve the conditions in their shelters, as well as around 40,000 residents and Lebanese inhabitants who now have better access to basic urban services,” says UNDP's Nancy Hilal. “With more than 30 Palestinian families from Syria crossing the Lebanese border every day, we are working on expanding our projects to support more families in desperate need of shelter and basic urban services."

Not only do the projects improve living conditions for refugees in shelters, they also improve cohesion and relations between the Palestinian refugees,  local Lebanese communities and surrounding municipalities. By encouraging active participation and collaboration, the projects aim to mitigate tensions between refugees and their hosts, and between the gatherings and the surrounding neighborhoods.

“Because we also target the Palestinian and Lebanese host communities, our projects have helped reduce tensions between original and arriving dwellers, and between the Lebanese and Palestinian communities,” Hilal says about the main social impact of the project.

For Ahmad's family, the UNDP projects have begun to make a difference. The family now has a brand new room, doors and windows, and a new roof over their heads. This not only gives family members more privacy, but will also keep them warm during the coming winter months.

"We have hot water this year and we can finally cook in our kitchen" Hassan says, looking up at the new, waterproof ceiling of his home. "We will outlast this winter."

*Palestinian gathering: neighborhood or community of Palestinian refugees

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