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At Za'atari refugee camp in Jordan, as a million litres of clean water arrive each day, focus turns to conservation and future supply of water

By Guy Degan

AMMAN, Jordan, 22 October 2012 – The Za’atari refugee camp in northern Jordan is a safe haven for almost 30,000 refugees who have fled conflict in the Syrian Arab Republic. Hundreds of people arrive daily.

UNICEF correspondent Guy Degan reports on how, in Za'atari refugee camp in Jordan, efforts have turned to water conservation.  Watch in RealPlayer


Since its opening in July, the camp has quickly developed the needs of a small city – especially for water.

Answering the call for water

Every day, trucks ply their way through the camp, delivering more than one million litres of clean water.

But, in one of the most arid countries in the world, providing drinking water for everyone is an enormous challenge.

That’s why the work of water and hygiene promoters like Hala Abu Omar is so important.

She and her colleagues from UNICEF partner the Agency for Technical Cooperation and Development (ACTED) are trying to reduce the camp’s water consumption, family by family, tent by tent.

Their message is straightforward: Use water wisely, and try to keep tents clean to prevent disease outbreaks – difficult tasks in a growing camp on dry and dusty land.

© UNICEF Jordan/2012/Al-Masri
A Syrian refugee boy drinks water from a tap in Za’atari refugee camp. One million litres of clean water are delivered to the camp by truck daily. UNICEF and partner Mercy Corps are aiming to drill two boreholes near the camp as a longer-term solution.

Bringing messages of hygiene and water management

Every day, Ms. Abu Omar’s team meet early in their camp office to plan the day’s work.

Using a high-resolution satellite map of the camp, they pinpoint exactly which tents and families they will visit, as well as note any sanitation problems at water points or toilets.

Today, Ms. Abu Omar will visit 10 families in the morning to discuss hygiene and water management, bringing along new water conservation posters ACTED is distributing.

At one of the first tents she visits, she speaks with a family from Damascus. They’ve been living in Za’atari for nearly three months.

Ms. Abu Omar listens attentively when the family speak about how they are managing. She then explains the importance of conserving water, especially to the children, and offers the parents some practical advice on saving water when washing clothes.

“They're very understanding. They have three children who I spoke to. I showed them our posters, and they’re very cooperative,” says Ms. Abu Omar.

As she walks tent to tent, refugees with whom Ms. Abu Omar has worked greet her warmly. Some take her aside to point out problems they are having with water. After two months of working in Za’atari, she has built relationships with many of the families.

“I think my work is very important, simply because, if you look around you, you will see tens of thousands of Syrians, and I am trying to change some of their habits, like ways of using water,” says Ms. Abu Omar. “I also guide them in ways to help them with personal hygiene, to keep them healthy while they’re in the camp.”

© UNICEF Jordan/2012/Al-Masri
Water and hygiene promoter Hala Abu Omar holds a poster that UNICEF and partner Agency for Technical Cooperation and Development use to educate the refugees in Za'atari refugee camp, Jordan. Ms. Abu Omar and her team go from tent to tent to talk to the refugee families.

Ensuring water for the future

Supplying water by truck to Za’atari is not a long-term solution. It is expensive and time-consuming and can be delayed or interrupted.

UNICEF and partner Mercy Corps are aiming to replace water trucks by drilling two new boreholes near the camp.

Work is also ongoing to improve the water supply in towns surrounding Za’atari, which will benefit Syrian refugees and host communities.

For example, at present, residents in Mafraq, the closest town to Za’atari, have running water for approximately 10 hours per week. UNICEF WASH Specialist Saeed Hameed says that work that is currently being carried out in Mafraq to expand a pipeline will benefit 25,000 Syrian refugees and local residents.

UNICEF and Mercy Corps are also working on improving access to water in Ramtha, another town in northern Jordan hosting refugees.

“People living here will get double the amount of water, better pressure and more reliable. The work we’re doing here will not only help the Syrian refugees in the camp, but also serve the people in the surrounding communities,” says Mr. Hameed.

The new boreholes for Za’atari are expected to be completed by mid-November. But, as new families arrive every day from the Syrian Arab Republic, Ms. Abu Omar’s work to ensure water resources are used as well as possible is critical.



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