AMMAN, Jordan, 15 August 2012 – Umm Ghassan sat inside her tent in Za’atari camp, holding her two-year-old grandchild. She was waiting for the child’s siblings and mother, who had gone to fetch the water necessary to meet the family’s drinking and washing needs. Report by Hala Abu Khatwa
Umm Ghassan wants to return to her Syrian homeland. The aging grandmother has nine sons and tens of grandchildren, most of whom joined her when she left their hometown of Tafas in Daraa Governorate. Bombing and fear drove her, as well as thousands of Syrian families, to flee their homes to Syria’s neighboring countries. Displaced Syrians registered in Jordan alone count more than 40,000. Of these, about 6,000 people live at Za’atari camp, built to accommodate over 100,000 refugees.
Umm Ghassan’s hometown is known for its green fields and fresh vegetables, but the environment surrounding the camps provides a different landscape. “The dust here is more than what we can bear,” she said. “We never stop washing. Praise be to God, we have water, but the conditions here are difficult. The heat and dust make our children sick.”
The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), together with other UN agencies and partners, provides humanitarian assistance to meet the basic needs of these refugees. UNICEF leads efforts to provide drinking water and support the site’s water, sanitation and hygiene infrastructure through the installation of permanent latrines, bathing facilities and washing basins, as well as mobile units prepared for these purposes. UNICEF strives to assure that the per capita share of water is at least 50 liters per day.
Facing the challenges
The harsh desert conditions, including hot, dusty winds, strongly impact the camp’s inhabitants. UNICEF and its partners are working hard to meet these challenges and try to alleviate their consequences. Water points were shaded and fenced and 400 Ziirs (large traditional clay jars used to cool water) were distributed, with more being procured. With Jordan already suffering from shortages in its water resources, UNICEF and its partners, in coordination with the Jordanian Ministry of Water and Irrigation, are currently assessing digging a special well for Za’atari camp to ensure that the increasing numbers of refugees access their water needs.
Eleven-year-old Maha escorts her three-year-old sister to one of the mobile latrines, installed by UNICEF on the same day Maha arrived at the camp. The trip with her parents and uncles from Homs took two days, of which they spent hours walking on foot. Trying to defeat her tears, said, “I am afraid of everything. I am afraid of the bombing, afraid of the snipers.”
Education in Emergencies
Maha has been at Za’atari for more than one week. Her face is more relaxed, despite her suffering from the dust. Every day, she goes to the ten tents designated as child-friendly spaces by UNICEF, in partnership with Save the Children International, where psychosocial support, recreational activities and informal education services are provided.
Twelve-year-old Malek also takes his siblings on a daily basis to the child friendly spaces, which he calls “the school.” Malek and the other Syrian children living in refugees centers in Jordan will be attending formal Jordanian schools when the new scholastic year starts in September. The Ministry of Education will accept them in the schools surrounding the camp, and UNICEF with its partners will cover expenses and ensure all children in Za’atri have access to education.
Malek says he will still miss his friends and schoolmates at Tafas. But now he looks forward to the start of his sixth grade classes with his eyes pitched on a better future for himself and for his nine siblings.