October 4, 2018
An Overview of Technology and Trends in Syrian Refugee Settlements in the Beqaa Valley of Lebanon
Region/Country : Europe / Middle East
contributor: Helen Lindsay
Beginning in May of 2011, the Syrian Refugee Crisis has drawn the attention of the world. Syrian refugees fled their homes to neighboring countries including Turkey, Jordan, and Lebanon. Within two years, one million Syrians sought refuge in another country. Now, over five million refugees have fled Syria for other countries and 1.5 million of them are living in Lebanon. Most of the refugees are living in informal tented settlements, which are dispersed throughout Lebanon. The majority of these settlements are in the Beqaa Valley, a region about an hour’s drive from the city of Beirut. This paper aims to provide an overview of technology trends in these settlements.Photo: A Day in the Settlements
Photo: A Day in the Settlements
The information presented here was gathered from two clusters of settlements just outside the town of Zahle (see map). Visits to these sites were conducted in January and July of 2018 and were coordinated by the American University of Beirut Humanitarian Engineering Initiative and the Beyond Association. The information below was gathered through interviews with refugees and Beyond Association staff, as well as through observation of the settlements and surveys of refugee households.
Cooking and Heating
This 2 burner gas stove was being used for cooking in one tent. Other tents had similar gas burning stoves and propane tanks.
General NAF Stove
Table 1: Types of Stoves
|Surveyed (Date, Location)||Heating (gas stove)||Heating (wood stove)||Total|
|January 2018 Saadnayel (055, 085, 022)||9||2||11|
Stoves like the one pictured at left are used for heating the tents in the winter. They are also occasionally used for cooking, when the household does not have a gas stove as pictured above. There are a number of challenges with these stoves. They are a burn hazard for small children, pose a large risk of fire in the vinyl tents, and need fuel to work. When families cannot afford to buy fuel (wood) they will often burn other items like shoes or plastic, increasing the risk of fire and the air pollution.
WASH – Water and Sanitation
Toilets: Turkish Toilets
The majority of tents have either a bathroom or an outhouse. Some of the tents share the outhouse with one other tent (each tent houses 5-12 people). Table 2 shows that only half the households surveyed have an indoor toilet. The toilets are connected either to a septic tank or camp wide sewer system.
Table 3: Prevalence of Indoor and Outdoor Toilets
|Surveyed (Date, Location)||Outhouse||Indoor toilet||No Answer||Total|
|January 2018 Saadnayel (055, 085, 022)||2||6||3||11|
|July 2018 Saadnayel||1||1||1||3|
Table 3: Types of Sewage Disposal by Household
|Surveyed (Date, Location)||Sewer||Septic tank||No Answer||Other||Total|
|January 2018 Saadnayel (055, 085, 022)||9||1||1||0||11|
|July 2018 Saadnayel||1||2||0||2||5|
Other: Open sewage pit
Table 4: Types of Sewers in Six Different Camps
|Saadnayel January 2018||Sewer Type?||Well contaminated by sewage?|
|Camp 022||toilet/outhouse waste goes underground to river||yes|
|Camp 072||Septic tanks, flooding common||unknown|
|085 Kaabah||underground sewer which feeds into river – untreated||unknown|
|Camp B||Shared sewer pits||Yes|
We surveyed households about how they cleaned their water. This water was brought in by trucks and was either donated by NGOs or purchased by the refugees. Different families used the water for drinking and cooking; some only for bathing and/or cleaning. Families purchased bottled water to drink if they had the money.
Table 5: Methods of Cleaning Water in Households
|Surveyed (Date, Location)||Chlorine Tablets||Didn’t Clean||No Answer||Other||Total|
|January 2018 Saadnayel (055, 085, 022)||4||6||0||1||11|
|July 2018 Saadnayel||2||3||2||2||9|
“Other” Answers from January: “Other” Answers from July:
Salt (1) Cleaning method not stated (1)
Dettol (1) Filtering out the sand (1)
Electricity and Connectivity
Solarway World Vision Lamp: One family had this in their tent to use when the power went out. The benefits of this is that it is much safer than using candle light. The target region for Solarway’s products is Africa, however this lamp could potentially be very helpful for more homes to have, especially in fire prevention efforts.
Payment for electricity happens differently in each settlement. In the Kaabah camps the government provides electricity and the bill is divided between the tents. In some places the landowner is the one who provides the electricity. Similar cost sharing systems are used to pay for Wi-Fi.
Table 6: Presence of Electricity and Wifi in Settlements
|Survey Date & Camp||Grid Electricity?||Wifi?|
|085 Kaabah (01/18)||Yes||Yes|
|Camp A (07/18)||Yes||Yes|
|Camp B (07/18)||Yes||Unknown|
Connectivity – Phones
Smart phones are fairly common among the refugee families. Most households have at least one. Often the phones go with the male head of household or working male family member when he goes out as a day laborer. Sometimes when there is no male head of household, or when there are multiple phones, the mother will have one with her.
They use the phones to get messages about their UNICEF money, for WhatsApp, and calls. It was also observed that some parents will let kids play games on the phone.
Table 7: Average Number of Phones per Household as told by the Camp Leader
|Saadnayel January 2018||Average Number of Phones per household|
Table 8: Number of phones per Family
|Saadnayel July 2018||Number of people in the Household||Number of Phones|
Maternal Health Practices:
From January 2018 interviews with refugee women:
One interviewee went to the primary healthcare center monthly (funded by the government). It is typical to give birth in a hospital for those who are registered with the UNHCR -75% cost covered by UNHCR. Many cannot afford prenatal care from doctors.
From a July 2018 interview with the Director of Medical Interventions at Beyond Association:
“For maternal healthcare people either go to PHCs or private doctors. Actually we have a problem with this sector in Lebanon, especially with the Syrians. They are supposed to go 5 times but it is expensive so they end up going once or maybe not at all, so since they don’t have any money they go and ask the oldest woman in the IS (they consider her a midwife but she is not trained at all) and she gives them advice for the duration of the nine months.”
Other Health Issues:
Other major health complaints in the camps are: asthma/bronchitis (from dust and smoke inhalation from both cigarettes and stoves), skin rashes (from contaminated water), diarrhea (from food and water), back pain (varying causes), chronic illnesses which refugees had before coming to Lebanon that now go untreated (including: heart disease, diabetes, & developmental disorders)
While most refugees have access to clinics or pharmacies, the care is very expensive and they often cannot afford to get treatment.
Photo: An Old Woman walks to her tent leaning on a cane
Parafire Fire Extinguishers: These were being delivered the day I visited by Save the Children. It is unclear who will implement and place the fire extinguishers, but from interviews with refugees in January, fire is one of their biggest safety concerns, especially during the winter. In our survey in January 2018, we found that in Saadnayel camp 055, there was only one fire extinguisher for every 3-4 tents and users were not always trained. This seems to be a theme as other camps mentioned that only the Shawiche (gatekeeper/leader) had a fire extinguisher.
In general, use of technology is similar across the camps, but varies based on the financial situation of the household and whether any members are able to work. While some technologies are very commonly used, such as smartphones, others are rare. Almost every product the refugees have they had to purchase, and oftentimes these devices are second hand. There are some technology for development solutions being used (such as the Solarway lamp), but most technologies are not designed for or suited to this situation. The Beyond Association developed their own app for data management for their children’s vaccine program. This has been a very effective tool and others want to use it or replicate it. There is a need for appropriate technologies that are designed with the user in mind. A few of the refugees interviewed have developed their own solutions to daily problems, but all expressed a desire for new solutions, and were ready to embrace new technologies and systems that were appropriately designed and cost effective.