With her husband sick in bed, Um Mohammed and her young children work all day peeling garlic. They earn just over a dollar for 10 hours of work.

The family fled the war in Syria and arrived in Lebanon with nothing but the clothes they were wearing. Today, Um Mohammed’s meagre income is barely enough for them to live on.

In Lebanon, more than 70 per cent of Syrian refugees live in extreme poverty, struggling to keep a roof over their heads and food on the table.

The winter months are especially difficult for these families. Um Mohammed can only just afford to keep her children fed and clothed, which means the waterproof sheeting that would help keep their tent warm and dry remains out of reach.

“It’s difficult to sleep at night, so cold. All night it’s pouring down rain on us and the tent is falling apart. It leaks and there is mud underneath us.”
Bitter winter conditions threaten displaced families across the Middle East

The flimsy shelters of displaced families are no match for the heavy rains that fall in Lebanon during the winter months. © UNHCR

Brutal winter conditions across the Middle East from December to February heighten the vulnerability of displaced families, who have no option but to live in makeshift shelters or in abandoned, unheated buildings in urban areas.

Winter storms and fierce winds can destroy shelters, leaving families exposed. Children who may already be profoundly traumatised now become vulnerable to preventable conditions like frostbite and hypothermia.

Having lost a son in the war, Um Mohammed is fearful for the rest of her family. She worries about how to protect her children from the pouring rain and freezing temperatures.

“My eyes are puffy from crying all night,” she says.

“But what can I do? Every day I am thinking, what can I do for them, where can I take them? My heart aches to see them like this.”

UNHCR has mobilised a winter action plan to help displaced families survive the brutally cold months ahead. But as relief operations gear up, the agency is facing critical funding shortfalls, leaving families like Um Mohammed’s on a waiting list for help.

“In these past days we have hated our life, hated it,” says Um Mohammed. “The winter is so tough for us.”

You can help bring hope and comfort to families struggling to defend themselves against the bitter winter cold.

Um Mohammed and her children work all day peeling garlic, earning just over a dollar a day. © UNHCR

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