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Lebanon: Syrian refugees brace for more floods as new storm nears | News

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Bekaa Valley, Lebanon Syrian refugees in Lebanon’s east are bracing for yet another potentially heavy storm which is set to bring rains and snowfall on Sunday.

Warnings of a looming winter storm have pushed refugees in Ghazze, a town in the Bekaa Valley, to take precautions against another round of floods, days after the country was hit by Storm Norma on January 6.

Lebanon is home to more than one million Syrian refugees, most of whom live in informal settlements made out of tarpaulin tents supported by wooden frames.

They are usually required to pay landowners rent ranging from $50 to $200, depending on the area, even as half of the Syrian refugee community in Lebanon already lives in extreme poverty, earning less than $3 a day, according to the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR).






WATCH: Lebanon – Winter storm adds to Syrian refugees’ suffering (02:00)

During last week’s storm, many have found shelter in incomplete housing units, garages, or evacuated schools as the country does not permit them to upgrade their tents to more permanent structures.

‘The tent was our castle’

In Ghazze, refugees are housed in at least 1,500 tents divided over several unofficial camps, according to municipality figures published last year. In one camp, dubbed “008” by the UN, at least 36 out of 48 tents were flooded during Storm Norma.

While some families in Ghazze say they have no other option than to withstand the upcoming storm, others have already sought temporary shelter.

Wessal Al Mustafa, a mother of five, said she simply cannot put her children through a storm similar to Norma, which affected more than 11,000 Syrian refugees across the country. “The last storm was so sudden,” Al Mustafa, who fled Raqqa in 2014, told Al Jazeera.

“I barely managed to rush my children out of the tent, let alone grab a few clothing items before we were completely soaked,” the 32-year-old said.

“To us, this tent was our castle.”





Mustafa’s says she and her children were forced to leave behind what little they owned [Sorin Furcoi/Al Jazeera] 

The family lost their mattresses, blankets, food items, and most of their clothing to the floods.

Their tent carried a stench of mold that has forced the Al Mustafa family to seek temporary, yet more expensive shelter in a nearby housing complex until the tent is restored.

The camps lack adequate infrastructure, and given the poor sewage systems, wastewater has overflowed and seeped into the tents, increasing the risk of diseases in the crammed settlements.

Since the arrival of the refugees from neighbouring Syria, NGOs have taken the responsibility of WASH (water, sanitation and hygiene) efforts, but in Ghazze these efforts have been halted due to lack of funding.

Mustafa’s eldest daughter, Fatma, said she wishes she could have saved more of her clothes from the floods.

“I had to carry my younger sister, who was in shock as the water quickly filled up the tent and reached our hips,” the 14-year-old said.

‘Sheer negligence’

There has been a stark deterioration in shelter conditions for Syrian refugees in Lebanon, according to a 2018 UN study.

Fundraising campaigns led by NGOs and individuals may bring temporary relief to refugees, but Syrians in Ghazze say more is needed to be done by the government to improve living conditions.

The camp’s community leader told Al Jazeera that he has already mobilised a team of “young men” who will be assisting in evacuating families with flooded tents to neighbouring camps that have remained unaffected, and garages in the area.

“We have called on the local municipality time and time again to at least raise the ground level of the tents here, but they have yet to respond,” Hussam Mansour told Al Jazeera.

“It’s sheer negligence on their part,” he said.





Many families sought shelter in an education centre run by Syrians [Sorin Furcoi/Al Jazeera] 

According to Mansour, some NGOs arrived on Saturday to distribute blankets and mattresses, as well as gas for heaters.

The main highway connecting the capital Beirut to the Bekaa Valley had been sealed off to trucks transporting aid, and was only been cleared for the passage of such larger vehicles by authorities on Saturday.

‘Nothing to return to’

Meanwhile, an education centre run by a group of Syrian women will be open as a temporary shelter for families evacuated in Ghazze.

Ghada Abu Mito, cofounder of Dammah, the NGO that runs the school, said the centre has begun preparing for the next storm by clearing classrooms for families who will require immediate shelter.

“We laid out blankets and mattresses in the classrooms, and will also heat the rooms which is important especially for the children,” Abu Mito told Al Jazeera.

Last week, some 13 families sought shelter in the centre, Abu Mito said.

“We had to respond to the crisis quickly and accommodated 75 people for about four days,” she said, adding almost all of those who evacuated suffered flu symptoms and chest infections, she said.

“Their psychological state was a mess,” she added. “Many wondered why no one rushed to help.”





 Lebanon has always said it wants Syrian refugees to return to Syria [Sorin Furcoi/Al Jazeera]

Lebanon’s leaders have urged Syrian refugees to return to their home country, but many refugees still fear being either arrested or drafted into the army upon repatriation.

UNHCR’s Rana Khoury told Al Jazeera the agency has been advocating for either the resettlement of refugees to a third countries, or working with concerned authorities to remove obstacles refugees are seeing for their return to Syria.

“We’re advocating for these two solutions because the government does not allow for permanent resettlement,” Khoury explained.

Syrian refugees in Lebanon are unable to work, and can only obtain work permits to work in agriculture and construction to sustain themselves in the country, which has suffered economically over the years.

The prolonged political deadlock over the formation of a new government has also worsening the situation.

Still, for people such as Wessal Al Mustafa, staying in Lebanon amid challenges such as the harsh winters, is the only option.

“I love my country … but for now, there is nothing to return to,” she said.






Al Jazeera World: Beirut’s Refugee Artists (46:43)

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Canadian report reveals spike in food-related litter during pandemic

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TORONTO — Restaurants’ inability to offer their usual dine-in service during much of 2020 may explain why an unusually high amount of food-related litter was found across the country, a new report says.

The Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup (GCSC) is an annual program in which volunteers are encouraged to clean up green spaces and other natural areas.

Last year, single-use food and beverage containers made up 26.6 per cent of waste collected through the program – nearly twice as high a percentage as in 2019, before the pandemic.

“We suspect the change may be one of the many implications of COVID-19, including more people ordering restaurant takeaway and consuming more individually packaged foods,” GCSC spokesperson Julia Wakeling said in a press release.

While food- and beverage-related litter accounted for a greater percentage of waste uncovered by GCSC than in the past, it wasn’t the single largest category of items picked up through the program last year.

That dubious honour goes to cigarette butts and other smoking-related paraphernalia, which comprised nearly 29 per cent of all items collected. There were more than 83,000 cigarette butts among the 42,000 kilograms of waste found and clean up last year.

So-called “tiny trash” – little pieces of plastic and foam – also accounted for a sizeable share of the waste, making up 26.8 per cent of the total haul.

In addition to smoking-related items and tiny trash, the main pieces of litter removed by GCSC volunteers last year included nearly 22,000 food wrappers, more than 17,500 pieces of paper, more than 13,000 bottle caps and more than 10,000 beverage cans.

Discarded face masks and other forms of personal protective equipment were also detected and cleaned up, although not tallied in their own category.  PPE waste has been repeatedly cited as a concern by environmental advocates during the pandemic; a robin in Chilliwack, B.C. is the earliest known example of an animal that died due to coronavirus-related litter.

The GCSC is an annual program organized by Ocean Wise and the World Wildlife Fund Canada. Its operations were disrupted by the pandemic as well; only 15,000 volunteers took part in the program last year, versus 85,000 in 2019, due to delays and public health restrictions making large group clean-ups impossible.

Still, there was GCSC participation from every province and the Northwest Territories in 2020. Nearly half of the volunteers who took part were based in B.C., where the program began in 1994.

Data from past GCSC reports was used as part of the research backing Canada’s ban on certain single-use plastic items, which is scheduled to take effect by the end of 2021.

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Canada: Significant Changes To Canada’s Federal Environmental Protection Regime Proposed

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On April 13, 2021, the government of Canada proposed significant changes to the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999 (“CEPA”)1 through the introduction of Bill C-28, Strengthening Environmental Protection for a Healthier Canada Act (the “Amendments“).2

With these Amendments, the government hopes to modernize Canada’s environmental regime which has not undergone significant change in over 20 years. CEPA is the primary statute through which the federal government regulates and protects the environment. CEPA and its accompanying regulations regulate among other things the treatment and disposal of chemicals and hazardous waste, vehicle and engine emissions, equipment and other sources of pollution, and the prevention and impact of environmental emergencies such as oil and chemical spills.

This bulletin provides an overview of the major changes to CEPA that have been proposed.

The Right to a Healthy Environment and Certain Soft Rights

Significantly, the Preamble under the Amendments will officially recognize Canadians’ right to a healthy environment. Section 2 of CEPA will require the government to protect that right when making decisions relating to the environment.3

The Amendments set out specific obligations the government must undertake to safeguard this right, including developing an implementation framework to set out how this right will be considered in the administration of CEPA as well as conducting research, studies and monitoring activities to support this goal.

In addition, the Preamble will recognize some additional considerations, including confirming the government’s commitment to implementing the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) as well as recognizing the importance of considering vulnerable persons, reducing or replacing the use of animal testing, and the right of Canadians to have access to information on product labels.

Project Impact Assessment

With respect to risk assessments under CEPA, under the new provisions the federal government must consider impacts on vulnerable populations and possible cumulative effects of the proposed conduct. Vulnerable populations will include groups of people with elevated biological susceptibility, such as children, and groups with elevated exposure risks, such an indigenous communities. Consideration of cumulative effects of proposed conduct takes a holistic approach to substance management by considering the compounding risks of exposure to various chemicals during daily life rather than looking at substances on their own.

Chemicals Management

The federal government has identified the management of chemicals as a key target area under the new CEPA.

The Amendments thus propose to overhaul this regime in order to better protect Canadians from the evolving risks of harmful chemicals and pollution. To accomplish this, the government has proposed wide ranging changes relating to risk assessment, public accountability, management of toxic substances and new substances, which are discussed in turn below.

Risk Assessment

The government must consult, develop and publish a Plan of Chemicals Management Priorities which will set out an integrated plan for the risk assessment of various chemical substances currently being used in Canada. The Plan will establish priorities for the management of substances, taking into account a number of factors including among others the views of stakeholders and partners, public comments, the effects on vulnerable populations, the toxicity of the substance, the ability to disrupt biological reproduction or endocrine systems, and whether there are safer and more sustainable alternatives.4 The government will also be empowered to make geographically targeted regulations to address pollution “hot spots”.

Additionally, the Amendments will establish a mechanism through which any person can submit a request to the Minister to assess a substance to determine its toxicity and risk to the environment. The Minister must provide a response within 90 days, indicating whether they intend to assess the substances and their reasons for their decision.

Public Accountability Framework

The Amendments intend to increase transparency and public participation in risk assessments by the government for the categorization and management of potentially toxic chemicals. Currently, CEPA contains a public accountability framework under section 77 and provides time limits for the government to assess substances under sections 91 and 92. However, these provisions only apply to certain risk assessments being conducted by the government such as substances placed on the Domestic Substances List that in the opinion of the Minister present the greatest potential for exposure to Canadians or are persistent or bio-accumulative. The proposed Amendments plan to amend section 77 to expand these transparency and accountability measures to all substance risk assessments for toxic or capable of being toxic substances, with the exception of assessments for new substances.5

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Scientists, Homalco First Nation team up to probe massive B.C. landslide — and its impact on salmon

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When the side of a B.C. mountain gave way on Nov. 28, 2020, crashing into a glacier fed lake and creating a 100-metre high tsunami, no one was around to see the destruction or hear the sound of rocks and trees tearing through the valley below. 

But scientists say the force, which was picked up by seismographs across North America, was the equivalent of a 4.9-magnitude earthquake. 

Fortunately, no one was in the slide’s path, but experts believe that a melting glacier likely contributed by making the slope less stable — and climate change means it is a growing risk. 

As more of Canada’s glaciers recede, scientists say there is great interest in finding out what exactly triggered this slide, and how the rocks and sediment have impacted the salmon population of nearby Elliot Creek and Southgate River. 

The mountain, which is located about 220 km north west of Vancouver, is on the traditional territory of the Homalco First Nation. 

It’s an area of remote wilderness, only accessible by air or by boating 80 km up Bute Inlet.

When the slide hit last year, more than 18 million cubic meters of rock barrelled down the slope hitting the lake within 30 seconds. 

“That is the equivalent of all of the cars in Canada coming down the hill at once,” said Marten Geertsema, a geomorphologist who works with the B.C. government studying landslides. 

He is one of several scientists, along with members from the Homalco First Nation, who have been studying the landslide and its cascading environmental impact on the watershed and salmon habitat. 

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