'The water comes to us': Zaatari camp residents enjoy new luxury

Unicef completes water distribution and sewerage network at Jordanian camp for Syrian refugees

FILE PHOTO: Syrian refugees collect water at the Al-Zaatari refugee camp in Mafraq, Jordan, near the border with Syria August 18, 2016. REUTERS/Muhammad Hamed/File Photo
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Syrian refugees at the Zaatari camp in Jordan will be celebrating World Water Day with real feeling on Friday as they enjoy the benefits of piped water and a sewage disposal system.

The tens of thousands of residents have struggled to get enough water each day for years since the camp sprang up in the desert near the border with Syria.

But the UN has now completed water and sanitation systems that provide each family member with 35 litres of potable water daily, directly to their homes.

“We’ve come a long way," Amina, a Zaatari resident, told Unicef. "If I were to grade the changes, it would go from zero to 10.”

Jordan faces severe water shortages because of climate change and the extra demand from the influx of refugees from neighbouring Syria and Iraq.

Unicef and Jordan’s Ministry of Water completed the Zaatari project in several stages over the past seven years since the camp was established, with a total investment of $61 million (Dh224m).

"The camps are often very hot during the daytime so it's critical and life-saving to be able to provide sufficient amount of water to every single refugee," Robert Jenkin, Unicef's Jordan representative, told The National.

Residents used to get their water from communal taps fed by bore holes or from water tankers.

"We used to go and fill up our buckets with water from the public taps and sometimes the trucks," Amina said. "When the trucks came it would get really crowded."

Unicef and the World Health Organisation say nearly a billion people across the world  have no access to clean drinking water.

Every Zaatari household now also has a toilet connected to a sewerage system, providing safety and dignity to girls, women and all residents in the camp, Mr Jenkins said.

“Now that the water is in their homes they do not need to walk to the end of the street to use the communal bathrooms,” he said.

Children in Zaatari camp

Ending the reliance on water tankers has also made the camp safer for the about 45,000 children by reducing the risk of road accidents.

The number of tankers delivering water has dropped from a peak of about 65 a day to just eight, and there are no longer any  carrying wastewater from the camp.

Amina's family used to send her grandson Dia, 10, to the communal tap stands to fetch water.

Dia and other boys would carry up to 12 buckets of water a day, but he estimates that three were wasted through being spilt, which caused him great frustration.

"We used to go far away, where the water was," he said. "We had jerry cans and buckets and would go fill them up. It would take us an hour to bring the water all the way home.

“But now we have no worries. We sit and the water comes to us on its own."

Jordan's water crisis

Jordan is one of the world's driest countries and is in desperate need of water. The kingdom hosts 660,000 UN-registered refugees and an estimated 1.3 million refugees live across the country, Mr Jenkins said.

“It’s critical for us to recognise the generosity of the Jordanian government and their people by providing a public good to hosting such a huge number of refugees."

He said it was critical that the international community and the UN system "provides all they can to serve and support each refugee".