Syria’s Humanitarian Crisis: The View From Lebanon

Posted by Kelly Clements
August 6, 2014
Syrian Refugee Children Sit Outside Their Tent at a Refugee Settlement in Lebanon

On July 30, Secretary Kerry announced the United States would give another $378 million in humanitarian assistance to the people affected by the Syrian crisis.  From the tragic situation in Gaza to the separatist threat in eastern Ukraine, there is much competition for the world’s attention today.  But from where I sit at the U.S. Embassy in Beirut, the situation in Syria could not be more dire -- and for the stability of Lebanon, it cannot be ignored.  To alleviate the pain and address all dimensions of this crisis, a political solution must be found to end the war in Syria.  Until then, this humanitarian aid is saving lives and provided not a moment too soon.

Lebanon, which generously opened its borders and is currently struggling to cope with more than one million refugees from Syria, will receive an additional $93 million from the United States as part of the announcement.  This brings total U.S. humanitarian assistance to Lebanon since the Syria war began to more than $485 million, building on a robust and longstanding development and security partnership between Lebanon and the United States which we are determined to continue and expand. 

In a country of just four million people, you can imagine what this means: a country still scarred by 15 years of civil war is now bursting at the seams with refugees.  Having served for more than three years as a remarkable host, it is now watching as its own citizens’ living standards falter.  The Lebanese people, who have so generously opened their homes to Syrians, now find their schools, hospitals, and services stretched, with communities teetering on the edge as the war drags on.

Evidence of the war’s impact is everywhere, from the Syrian children laboring in construction sites and selling sundries on the street corners of Beirut, to the Syrian families crowded into every corner of the country, squatting in vacant lots and renting any available space -- from chicken coops to backyard sheds.  Only a lucky few have been able to enroll their children in school.  Water is scarce in the best of times, but the drought this summer has added to the crisis facing Lebanon.  Importantly, U.S. aid dollars are benefiting both refugees and the local communities who are supporting them.  What we are providing is a lifeline to both Lebanese and the struggling Syrian families uprooted by this crisis.

Lebanese generosity has saved many lives, but at a significant cost.  The country needs assistance of all kinds -- humanitarian, economic, development, and security.  The United States has stepped up and encourages other nations to do the same.  We will continue to stand with the Lebanese government and people, whose seemingly infinite compassion and extraordinary humanitarianism has supported so many people in need for so long.  

For many, it can be hard to envision what these millions of aid dollars mean.  For me, it means helping refugee and Lebanese children get an education and dream of a safe future free of war.  It means more dollars in the Lebanese market as refugees feed their families and rent housing without fear of being caught in a cross-fire in Syria.  It means access to clean water.  During my many conversations with refugee and Lebanese families, we all share the wish for a political solution to the conflict in Syria, but it is clear that this humanitarian aid brings hope to millions.

About the Author: Kelly Clements serves as Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration.

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