Battling dust storms and the burning desert sun to meet the most basic need of the displaced - water
By Melanie Sharpe
Za’atari, Jordan, August 17, 2012 - Eleven year old Abdullah stares silently at his dust covered toes under the scorching afternoon sun in Jordan’s Za’atari refugee camp.
His mother Hajar fills a bucket of water while keeping a close eye on Abdullah and her 8-year-old daughter Esra. Like most families in the camp, Hajar and her five children are from a southern Syrian town that has erupted into deadly violence.
“I have not seen or heard from my husband in seven months,” says Hajar. “I owned a sewing shop but it was burned down, then my house was burned. We had to run away to Jordan. Everyone is running.”
Stifling conditions at camp
More than 7,000 Syrians are now staying at the Za’atari camp, including Hajar and her children. Conditions are harsh. The desert sun is stifling; there is no natural shade and dust storms regularly rip through the camp.
Ensuring families have regular access to water can be an excruciatingly difficult job in the middle of the desert and in one of the most water-scarce countries in the world.
UNICEF and its partner, the German Federal Agency for Technical Relief (THW), are leading the provision of drinking water, hygiene, sanitation and waste management for the entire camp.
“There are obvious challenges working in this climate,” says Michele Servadei, Deputy Representative for UNICEF Jordan. “Right now everyone in Za’atari has access to drinking water, toilets and showers as well as somewhere to wash their clothes, but we need urgent support to ensure this continues.”
Since the camp’s opening on July 29, UNICEF and THW water teams have been working to ensure each person staying at Za’atari has at least 50 litres of water per day. There are also multiple washing stations that include latrines, bathing facilities and washing basins. UNICEF is also distributing 2,000 ziirs – traditional clay jugs used to collect water and keep it cool.
Multiple water needs
Not far from the camp’s entrance on the main gravel road is one of the camp’s mobile health centres. It took the centre’s team two days to assemble the 28-tent facility. The doctors and nurses can see up to 600 patients a day and there are beds for an additional 50 in-patients.
The day before the clinic opened, UNICEF ensured there were working toilets, showers and washing stations essential for health workers to use before treating patients. Drinking water taps are being installed, as well as washing facilities for patients.
“This clinic simply can’t function without water,” says physician Dr. Idrissi Karim.
Providing enough water to sustain more than 6,000 people and multiple health centres in the desert is expensive.
Using water tanker trucks, UNICEF brings approximately 357,000 litres of drinking water into Za’atari every day. UNICEF is also preparing to drill a well within the camp to reduce transport costs and create a more sustainable water solution. But drilling is costly and the demand on water continues to increase as more families arrive at the camp each day.
Back by the water taps, Abdullah and Esra help their mom carry her bucket of water. The children’s eyes are pink and swollen from the blowing dust. Hajar can’t believe this is her life now. “I want my home back, I want a sewing machine, I just want to work again,” she says.
Nobody knows how long families like Hajar and her young children will have to stay in this tented desert camp. UNICEF and partners are doing everything possible to provide the basics for these families who have already suffered too much.