UNHCR begins reconstruction after fire in camp kills seven kids

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Reconstruction began over the weekend at an informal tented settlement for Syrian refugees in Western Bekaa after a devastating fire left seven children dead and dozens of shelters destroyed.

The children were killed when a fire, believed to have been caused by a faulty a gas cylinder, tore through 30 tents Thursday, the U.N. refugee agency said.

Two adults and an eighth child are being treated for injuries, according to the UNHCR.

Much like the existing settlement, the new tents will be made of wood and plastic sheeting atop concrete bases. But Josep Zapater, head of the UNHCR office in the Bekaa Valley, told The Daily Star that additional safety measures would be taken into consideration ahead of construction to try and prevent further loss of life if another fire occurs.

“We are separating every tent by two meters, so if there is a new fire it won’t spread so quickly,” Zapater told The Daily Star from the Bekaa Valley settlement.

The 35 tents that house some 40 families – roughly 160 individuals – are located near the village of Ghazzeh, Zapater said.

UNHCR is negotiating with the local municipality and a local landowner to procure additional land to facilitate the expanded space between tents.

Locals immediately reached out to families following the fire, Zapater said, and funerals for the children killed in the blaze were held Friday.

“The response from the municipality and the local community has been overwhelmingly positive and compassionate,” Zapater said. “From the beginning, the mayor has been leading the response and comforting the victims.”

Attempts to reach local officials about the local response to the blaze were unsuccessful.

In a statement Saturday, UNHCR said it was “deeply shocked” by Thursday’s fire and the agency extended its “sincere condolences to the families and all those affected by the tragic incident.”

“UNHCR is coordinating closely with the local authorities. Families who lost their homes and possessions in the fire gathered at the local municipal hall, where they received food, water, blankets, winter clothing and other humanitarian assistance,” the statement said. “Counseling is also available for those affected.”

The agency said the “tragic incident is an illustration of the hardships and precarious living conditions facing many refugees in Lebanon. UNHCR extends its thanks and appreciation to the local authorities for responding so quickly to the incident.”

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