MAFRAQ, Jordan (October 12, 2012) — Massive water trucks trundle slowly through Za’atari refugee camp, filling the tanks that supply drinking taps and latrine and shower blocks.
A group of women gather around the taps near three white tanks, washing clothes and hanging them to dry. Their young daughters help them. From the same tanks, other children fill buckets and carry them back to their tents, while younger boys shower under the desert sun.
Every day, about 157 truckloads of water—over 250,000 gallons—are delivered to the camp by up to 23 water trucks capable of holding 3,000 to 5,000 gallons of water each, for the some 32,000 residents of the refugee camp.
“This is a huge operation to meet the lifesaving water and sanitation needs of so many people,” says UNICEF Representative in Jordan Dominique Hyde. “The camp population is increasing daily, so we are constantly scaling up.”
UNICEF and the German Federal Agency for Technical Relief (THW) are supplying water to the camp, as well as building latrine and shower blocks, and providing waste management.
The journey of the water trucks begins 9 to 15 miles from the camp gate, at one of the three wells in Ramtha and Mafraq that supply water to the camp.
All the water delivered to the camp is safe for drinking, explains Muffaq Hazza, of THW. The chlorine level of the water is tested by the NGO Agency for Technical Cooperation and Development (ACTED) when it arrives at the camp, and then again by THW before the water is pumped into the tanks.
In addition to these controls, the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Water and Irrigation also periodically test the water, explains Hazza. “If there is a problem, we send the truck back.”
Once the water has been tested, each tanker goes to fill some of the camp’s tanks. The tanks are located at 90 toilet and shower blocks and at 20 separate drinking points.
Operating on such a massive scale means a number of challenges have had to be addressed. One ongoing concern is water conservation, says Hazza. “The refugees come from an area rich in water,” he says. Jordan, on the other hand, is the fourth most water-scarce country in the world, in terms of availability of water resources per capita.
Abu Nawras, a 55-year-old father of eight who lives at the camp, discusses the conditions that make it difficult to conserve water. “The dust forces us to consume even more water in this place,” he says. “Wherever we walk, we become covered with dust. Sometimes my wife washes the children’s clothes twice a day… How can you eat if you are not clean?”
UNICEF and ACTED are providing water conservation education to help Syrians in the camp slowly reduce water usage. And for a more sustainable approach to supplying water to the camp, UNICEF is drilling two new wells for the camp.
Hazza says that protests by residents upset about conditions at the camp have occasionally limited water delivery by blocking the road. The camp has only one access road, and the limited access has also slowed delivery at times. However, the construction of a second access road has been approved by Jordanian authorities, and work is due to begin soon.
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