14/07/2013 18:04 BST | Updated 13/09/2013 06:12 BST

Lebanon on the Brink: How Syria's Neighbour Has Become a Victim of Its Own Generosity


"We just want to breathe again," teenage-boy Samer told me in a Lebanese village close to the Syrian border.

Day after day he has watched the Syrians arrive into his little town of Sahel over the last year. First there were a few of them, and his family and friends helped them with food and medication when they arrived. Then there were more, and his friends hosted Syrians in their own homes, others rented spare flats to them. Even more came, and the Syrian children were given places at the local school and extra help as some subjects are taught in different languages. Then, they received access to the local hospitals, and the health clinics threw their doors open to them with the help of the UN. It was only natural that this little Lebanese community would help their troubled neighbours in their time of need.

However, the situation has now changed. Samer and his friends have had enough.

"The numbers increased. We used to give them houses when we had free space, but we no longer have the room," he says with a sigh.

Sahel's population has doubled since the Syria crisis began in 2011. Today it is bursting at the seams. Syrians are living in makeshift tents anywhere they can find open space. School class sizes are now twice as large, with some schools shutting their doors to local children at lunchtime to make way for the growing number of refugee children. Even the garbage collection has become a problem, with double the waste but the same number of collectors. Their generosity is giving way to resentment. Tension simmers beneath the surface and a tinderbox atmosphere is the result. Sahel and the rest of Lebanon are at breaking point.

The international community has sought to respond to the Syria crisis over the last two years primarily through helping the refugees. While this response has undoubtedly provided much needed assistance to those who have fled the conflict, with the UN and other responding agencies trying hard to keep up with the ever-growing numbers of Syrians arriving, it's come at a cost. The needs of the 'host communities' who have been taking in Syria's refugees have gone largely ignored. Local villages like Samer's, who have provided aid to the refugees, are now sinking into crisis themselves as they buckle under the strain. Syria's civil war threatens to destabilise not just the country itself, but the entire region.

One Lebanese family I spoke with shared their exasperation that they had hosted a Syrian family, providing food and shelter with their own means, and then watched as the UN provided them with more assistance, but nothing for the hosts themselves. This strain is etched across an increasingly frustrated Lebanon. With no end to the crisis in sight, security fears have now become a very real concern.

Samer got visibly angry when I questioned how the local economy has been impacted by the crisis.

"Work, well they take our places at work, do you want more hospitality?" he asks with a raised voice.

Financial hardship has been one of the main consequences of Lebanon's generosity towards their neighbours. Syrians, desperate for a chance to make money, will work for wages far lower than the Lebanese. This then creates a double crisis for locals, who lose their jobs at the same time that their rents triple or quadruple - the result of increased housing demand and because many apartments now host several refugee families.

The focus of the international community responding to this crisis must change. With the UK secretary of state for international development, Justine Greening, recently announcing that £50 million of UK funding will go towards Lebanese communities, as well as Syrian refugees in Lebanon, this is a great start. It is essential, not just because both groups are in desperate need, but because a fair distribution of aid will help promote peaceful relations and help cool dangerous tensions that could spark even more violence in Lebanon.

This is why the recommendations in World Vision's new report "Under Pressure - The Impact of the Syrian Refugee Crisis on Host Communities in Lebanon" are clear. Many Lebanese families face financial ruin as wages plummet and rent prices soar, and the tension is becoming too much. Support to Lebanon, Lebanese communities and Syrian refugees, must increase to also meet their needs and prevent further conflict arising. With some children now telling us that they're scared for their future, this funding refocus must start now.

There is a palpable fear across Lebanon. The country has seen war and knows what it looks like. Sectarian violence has increased in recent months, and as refugees keep arriving the expectation is that the number could double by Christmas. Lebanon's future is now intimately tied with Syria's, and a solution to the conflict in Syria must be found for the entire region. Lebanon, despite its overwhelming generosity and the best of intentions, cannot address all of these problems by itself.