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How do you provide water and sanitation facilities to 50,000 people in the middle of Jordan’s desert?

Syria Crisis
© UNICEF/Jordan-2013

The UN estimates that 1 million Syrian refugees could be living in Jordan by the end of 2013. To help accommodate the huge numbers, a new refugee camp is being built.

UNICEF Jordan’s Chief of Water, Sanitation and Hygiene, Kitka Goyol, takes us on a tour of the yet to be opened Azraq camp.

Za'atari, Jordan, 15 July 2013- Kitka Goyol stands at the top of a small hill overlooking a vast expanse of inhospitable desert. The barren land is pockmarked with diggers and cranes. From this distance they look like small toys. This will be Azraq refugee camp.

The task is to transform this desert into a habitable site for 50,000 people, with the potential to expand to 130,000 should the need arise. “The first thing that came to my mind was it doesn’t look feasible because as you can see there is virtually little sign of life. It’s just in the middle of nowhere,” Goyol said.

However, work has been speeding up over the past two months. “We have seen the place evolve from a road network now being in place to the facilities we are planning for the septic tanks and water, so it’s becoming real,” he said.

Learning from Za’atari

The first refugee camp for Syrians in Jordan opened 11-months ago. Za’atari is now home to some 120,000 people. The experience and opinions of refugees living there has been key in the planning of Azraq.

The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) and its partners have divided the new site into 5 ‘villages’. Each village will include some 1,000 family compounds with 30 people in each.

“They will limit the number of tents within an area to make it more homely. So we’ve agreed on 6 tents per extended family compound and in each of those family compounds will be 2 latrine units,” explained Goyol.

The initial costs of installing the sanitation facilities will be higher but once in place they will be handed over to the community. As a result, maintenance costs should be much reduced, as those using the toilet and shower blocks will take care of them. In Za’atari, the facilities were much larger and used by many more people. This resulted in damage and cleanliness issues.

The first structure arrives

Goyol stands next to a large hole in the ground. He’s excited, yet slightly nervous. The first septic tank has arrived from Amman and is being offloaded by a crane. “Really this is a moment we have been waiting for. We are hopeful that it fits well.” It’s slowly lowered into the hole - it fits. This is the first of 4,600 septic tanks to take its place. The tanks will serve 15 people each and will be emptied by de-sludging trucks every 25-days. The waste will be taken to a water treatment plant 60 kms away.

With the septic tank in place the ‘super structure’ follows. It’s the housing for one toilet and a shower. “Nearly there, nearly there, we are excited now. Got our first prototype ready,” said Goyol whilst helping to position the block. The first structure for refugees in Azraq camp is finally standing.

Coping with water scarcity

The Ministry of Water and Irrigation identified two sites for boreholes. But accessing water in the world’s fourth most water scarce country is a serious challenge and costly.

Water will be pumped from a depth of 500 meters, using the second aquifer, an underground layer of water. The first is protected, as it’s a source of water for the nearby Azraq town.

“The water will be delivered from the boreholes directly to overhead tanks and from there water will flow by gravity to the service areas,” said Goyol. A total of 1.5 million litres of water a day, 30 per person, will be supplied. That’s twice the minimum humanitarian standard of 15 litres.

With Jordan’s towns and refugee camps bursting at the seams, it’s a race against time to get the site operational. But after a day in the intense desert heat, Goyol takes time to reflect.

“As you can see the terrain and environment is harsh. It’s going to be difficult for everybody. But we hope these facilities and services we’ve put in place will help make it more habitable for the refugees,” he said.



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