- - Tuesday, May 13, 2014

BEIRUT — Lebanon has more refugees in need of humanitarian aid than international agencies can accommodate, and the situation worsens daily as Syrians enter the country to escape civil war.

Refugees account for one-third of Lebanon’s 4.43 million people, straining the finances and resources of the host country and aid agencies such as the World Food Program and the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees.

“The latest numbers are that 70 percent of refugees in Lebanon are very vulnerable, which leaves 30 percent not receiving aid,” said Dana Sleiman, UNHCR spokeswoman in Lebanon. “For assistance, I am only talking about food, hygiene and baby kits.”

More than 2.5 million Syrians have fled to neighboring countries such as Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey and Iraq since the start of the popular uprising against President Bashar Assad in March 2011, according to the UNHCR. About half of those refugees are children.

“These host countries are already deeply stressed and poor, and now they have to carry the burden of an increased population,” said Yezid Sayigh, a senior associate at the Carnegie Middle East Center whose work focuses on the Syrian crisis. “They can barely provide for their own citizens, so add a population increase and it creates one big problem here.”

Carrying their few possessions in their hands and on their backs, families of refugees huddle in tents, abandoned buildings and other empty spaces, and set up living quarters in places that often lack running water, electricity and other basic services. The cloth and nylon dwellings create cities of thousands that stretch for miles across the sandy, rock-strewn desert.

Concerns about sanitation, medical care and education run second in urgency to those about food, water and shelter.

Over the past three years of the Syrian civil war, the annual UNHCR budget has increased from $13.5 million to $362 million to help meet the growing need. Still, those funds will not reach every refugee.

The World Food Program and UNHCR in July conducted a vulnerability assessment to determine who would receive aid, Ms. Sleiman said. Those who are most vulnerable and have the greatest need receive the most assistance.

“We want to help everyone, but there are many factors involved such as the amount of aid we received for a given year. This causes us to make painful decisions very often,” she said.

International distribution efforts sometimes leave refugees without food. In Lebanon and Jordan, the World Food Program has started a replacing paper vouchers with plastic payment cards. Each member of a family who is not excluded from the program receives a $30 monthly allowance on a card to buy goods at participating stores.

Of the World Food Program’s 1 million registered refugees, 700,000 are receiving aid — and 300,000 are not.

“We excluded those who have potential to earn money or have another source of income,” said Laure Chadraoui, communications officer of the World Food Program. “We target those who are vulnerable such as children, women and the elderly.”

Ms. Sleiman said those who are denied aid can appeal. The UNHCR has visited 30,000 families in Lebanon, and 23 percent were given aid.

Wissam, 26, recently arrived from Aleppo with his 15-year-old wife and their infant son. He receives $60 monthly on a food aid card for his wife and child. The World Food Program has excluded him from the distribution system because he has the ability to sustain himself and find work.

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