Building a new hospital for Syrian refugees with tents and goggles

This is a desert, a true desert. Sudden wind pillars and dust devils catch and fly around everything that is loose on the ground. The sun beats down from a clear blue sky on a landscape that is nothing but gravel and sand.

The wind whips the sand and dust everywhere. “Because of the wind, we will have to be enormously careful when erecting the tents,” says a delegate.

It’s a common complaint among this first group of Red Cross technical delegates who have arrived in Jordan. Very soon, they are going to start erecting the emergency response unit (ERU) hospital, which will serve Syrian refugees in the new Camp Azraq in northern Jordan, about 100 kilometres east of Amman.

This hospital will not be like other ERU hospitals. It will not be built in a hurry to serve the short-term needs of flood or earthquake survivors. The International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) has committed to operating the hospital for at least a year, if necessary.

“This is something between an emergency hospital and a permanent hospital. It is the first time we are doing something like this,” says technical delegate Gerard Murphy from the Norwegian Red Cross.

Soon the group is all over the vast hospital ground. They are measuring, planning and thinking about the best possible solutions for the work that will start as soon as all the materials have arrived on site.

“Nature and climate are the main challenges in the first construction phase. Working in a windy and hot climate is demanding,” says Tuomo Hämäläinen from the Finnish Red Cross.

There is a lot of expertise and experience especially in the first rotation of delegates. Older members have been on several Red Cross Red Crescent missions all over the world, and the less experienced delegates are keen to learn. No one thinks this will be easy, but everyone is of the opinion that nothing is impossible.

“Everyone knows their duties. In a mixed group, older members transfer their knowledge to us younger ones, which is very good,” says Kari Otto from the Finnish Red Cross, the youngest delegate in the group.

During the first day at the construction site one thing becomes clear: the working hours will start with the rising sun, when the wind is still weak, and they will end at midday, when the heat reaches its peak.

And another item has now been added to the procurement list: goggles. The wind and sand are an unpleasant combination, at least until the tents are erected.