Strained living and economic conditions have prompted IDPs in northern Syria refugee camps to resort to unconventional and possibly hazardous heating methods that are cheaper and more accessible than gas, wood and olive mill pomace.
Struggling to keep warm during harsh winter weather, refugees are burning plastic, old clothes, sponge blocks and nylon bags.
Touring a number of refugee camps in the northwestern province of Idlib, Asharq Al-Awsat met with Abu Mohammed, a 56-year-old father of eight, who blames both displacement and Syria’s crippling economic crisis for his daily struggle to provide heat for his children.
“Difficult economic conditions have prevented us from using fuel and firewood, which are being sold at steep prices, and forced us to look for alternatives like burning used plastic, nylon bags and cardboard to stay warm,” he said.
According to the refugee ailed by poverty and cold, a ton of firewood is being sold at as much as $100.
Every morning, Abu Mohammed tasks three of his children to spend the day scouring for plastic waste and bags tossed around Haranabush town, where the camp they’re staying at is located.
Meanwhile, he spends the day in their family’s shabby tent to look after his younger kids and wife, who is suffering episodes of severe cough and respiratory infections as a result of inhaling toxic gases emitted from the burnt plastic and nylon.
Hassan Qaddour, a local physician, confirmed that dozens of emergency cases linked to inhaling toxic gases are being reported daily.
“On a daily basis, we receive dozens of children and elderly people with severe shortness of breath and lung infections,” said Qaddour, adding that they are being treated by oxygen therapy.
Poor ventilation of refugee tents coupled with fumes from burning plastic and nylon has contributed to the spike in lung infections among displaced Syrians in the north.
Qaddour warned that refugees suffering from poor immunity face a greater risk of contracting diseases.
He also noted that the risk is amplified when factoring in the coronavirus, which has recently spread among refugee camps.