Ahmed, 34, is a father of four. He and his family arrived in Lebanon in 2015 from Flitah, Syria. Since then, they have been living in an informal tented settlement on the outskirts of Arsal, a town at the north of Bekaa Valley near the Syrian border.
On the day this photo was taken, Ahmed took his two daughters and his wife to MSF’s clinic in Arsal. His youngest daughter, 18-month-old Zeinab, was diagnosed with anemia about four months prior. “She looked very sick. She was very pale and ate very little,” Ahmed. “The doctor prescribed an iron supplement and advised us to feed her more vegetables and beans, since we can no longer afford meat.” Anemia is linked to iron deficiency and is common among people who have limited access to certain types of food such as meat or peas.
Ahmed used to be a shepherd before he came to Lebanon. Due to back pain, he had to stop working, but from time to time he helps his uncle tend the herd in the mountains around Arsal. Since the economic crisis hit Lebanon, Ahmed’s family has struggled to buy basic items.
“One kilo [2.2 pounds] of meat cost 17,000 Lebanese pounds [$11 USD] before, but now it costs around 60,000 Lebanese pounds [$39 USD],” Ahmed. “It’s the same for tea, sugar, and even tomatoes. Everything has become at least four times more expensive and it’s only getting worse. At the end of the month, there’s nothing left for clothes or toys for the children, or for medicines. We save all our money for food and fuel above all now, during the winter.” Arsal is located 1,500 meters [1 mile] above sea level. Snow and freezing temperatures are quite common during the cold winter months.
While Ahmed waits for his daughters, Zeinab, and her six-year-old sister, Fatima, to see a doctor, his wife, Halima—who also has anemia—attends a prenatal consultation with the midwife. Their fifth child is due in two months, an extra mouth to feed for the family’s already stretched budget. “Our entire family benefits from the medical services in this clinic, even my parents, who both suffer from chronic diseases. They come here too to get their treatment,” says Ahmed.
During the consultation, the doctor notes that Zeinab’s condition has improved, but that Fatima has caught a respiratory infection. The family’s precarious living conditions—a shelter made from cement
blocks and plastic sheeting—may have contributed to the girl’s health condition. Smiling shyly, Fatima confesses that she wants to be a doctor when she grows up. “I’m worried about the future for my kids,” says Ahmed, “but I hope that if they go to school and learn to read and write, they’ll be able to have a better life.”
“All I want is to be able to live decently”