Arsal Lebanon border town overwhelmed by Syrian war, refugees
ARSAL Lebanon — The once sleepy little town of Arsal lies in the far east of the arid Bekaa Valley, along the Lebanese-Syrian border. With its unpaved roads and half-finished stone buildings, Arsal had been a typical dusty and isolated border town, but since the beginning of the uprising in neighboring Syria, it has taken on a much larger role: It is now host to a Syrian refugee population that is more than double the size of the town’s Lebanese residents. Arsal is cracking under the pressure.
The refugees began flowing into town soon after the Syrian conflict erupted in 2011. Arsal had always been a transit point and job site for Syrian laborers, so many of them decided to settle there to wait out the crisis. When clashes in Syria began to rock the border areas — particularly during the 2013 spring battle of Qusair, that winter’s fighting in Qalamoun and the recent clashes in Yabrud this month — the number of refugees in Arsal rapidly increased.
“The effects certainly aren’t positive,” said Ahmad Fliti, the town’s deputy mayor. He looked tired and spoke at lightning speed, trying to get as many words in before having to answer one of the myriad phone calls from Arsal’s residents, government figures and aid agencies. The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has put the total number of refugees it has assisted in Arsal at 50,000. Fliti, citing makeshift camps on Arsal’s outskirts beyond the UNHCR’s reach, said the total refugees overall is closer to 80,000. He said the town’s electrical grid, waste management system and water supply are struggling to serve a population almost three times its original size.
“There are enough water tanks and electricity centers in Arsal for 35,000 people,” Fliti told Al-Monitor. “There are now over 100,000 people using them.” Power cuts and water shortages are common throughout Lebanon, but have become endemic in Arsal as the town’s shaky infrastructure creaks under the ballooning population.
Lebanese residents, and those Syrians who can afford to rent cheap apartments, have been forced to ration water usage. At least five of the town’s generators and power centers have been rendered dysfunctional by the overwhelming number of people attempting to use them. Repeated requests for the state electricity company to repair them have been to no avail. The government’s lack of apparent concern, Fliti said, has become the norm…[continue reading on Al-Monitor.com]