by Timna Jahoda Kligler
It is one of the many cruel paradoxes of climate change that as the Middle East faces more and more severe water scarcity, children without socks or heat or food are freezing from a bizarre excess of precipitation. The horrific absurdity is enough to bring one to tears of desperation. It is always the poor who suffer for the gluttony and obliviousness of the rich. In our insatiable hunger for endless oil, endless hot water, endless disposable plastics, endless indulgence the lucky few have left the very poorest of us all to wither away from a desperate lack of sustenance and shelter and then to drown and freeze in a surfeit of water and snow. Parched until you drown.
Suffering without socks in Syria and Gaza
YouTube is awash with jumpy clips of Syrian refugee camps in Lebanon during the storm and of the frantic attempts to clear snow off the tents before they collapse. According to The Daily Star “the majority of the 1.2 million refugees live in makeshift unheated tents.” Everything they have in the world is in those flimsy tents and they don’t even have shovels for the snow. In a video by Al-Jazeera a man clearing snow drifts off the tents in only a sweater declares, “We don’t have bread or heating oil. Look at me, I don’t even have socks”. Another, sitting huddled with his family in their tent says simply, “We need heating oil and bread so our children don’t die”.
Snow covered tents in a refugee camp in Deir Zannoun village in the Bekka valley. Hussein Malla/AP
Many Syrian children have died in refugee camps in Lebanon. In their last pictures they are wrapped in thin blankets with closed eyes and pale skin and blue swollen lips, babies buried in cardboard boxes. In Gaza, a four-month old baby died on Friday after struggling with illness all winter living in a house that reportedly “lacked doors, windows or toilets” since the summer’s war. Thousands of Gazan families have been forced to evacuate freezing and flooded homes as people and cities struggle to repair devastation. The director of civil defense operations in Gaza, Raed al-Dashan was quoted by The New York Times, “I can say we don’t even have any infrastructure—the latest war destroyed everything. The world gets happy when rain falls. But in Gaza, rain means misery for people and more humanitarian crises”. In the same article a Gaza resident, Abu Bassan Najjar, said, “We woke up to find our blankets full of water. These caravans are useless. Our officials launch wars and then leave us outdoors. While we are dying slowly, our officials are sitting inside their homes in front of fireplaces”.
A Gazan boy rescued from his home in Rafah after the storm. Ibraheem Abu Mustafa/Reuters
Always those with least suffer most. And always they are forgotten after a few days of excited pity.
Stormy winters in Jerusalem
After witnessing two consecutive stormy winters in Jerusalem I have a new understanding and appreciation of the power and danger of cold, living here in these very cold buildings. When the heat and hot water are not so exorbitantly present, when it is cold enough inside to see your breath in bed, it makes you reflect on the astonishing luxury of indoor heating and the frightening reality of what life would be without it. I am so very, deeply grateful that I am only in a position of reflection, at the very edge of what it really means to be cold.
Cosmic luck and helping others
I grew up with snow, with snowplows and winter boots, fireplaces and double paned windows, central heating and snow shovels. Winter was very cold but I was never actually cold in it. It was fun, or a nuisance—depending on your point of view, but never particularly dangerous beyond an icy patch on the road or a slippery pathway.
Playing in the snow as a teenager with my sister at my childhood home.
Even a few nights in a house without heat, or electricity, or hot water, in the snow and freezing rain and slush jolts one out of that first world comfort so easily taken for granted. To say that cold gets into your bones is a cliché but a very true one—it doesn’t take long for it to seep its way into your marrow and stay there, to shiver all night while you search for more blankets.
And that is in a house that has extra blankets. Imagining what it must be like to experience that frigid cold ten-fold, a hundred-fold—soaked and freezing canvas the only boundary against the ferocious storm, or the house that might have sheltered you reduced to rubble or a shamble of broken windows—that is truly terrifying. Just the thought of it makes me feel sick with fear. I can only be grateful that through some absurd turn of cosmic luck it isn’t me freezing in the snow and hope that I can work to share that luck with those who are.