Thursday, October 25, 2012

As Winter Looms, Prepartions Begin for Syrians

By: Gina Mussio
Produced & edited by: Molly Nocheck

As Syrian refugees continue to pour in to Jordan, both governments and non-governmental organizations attention is turned toward the oncoming winter, and the preparations necessary to help thousands survive the change of season.

Hot summers, cold winters and minimal rainfalls characterize the climate in northern Jordan, with the coldest part of the year falling between mid-November and mid-March.

For those Syrians living in Za’atari Refugee camp in the northern city of Mafraq, battling the elements is already well known, as the camp is located in the middle of the desert.

“You stay there five minutes and you are full of dust. It gets everywhere, in your nose, in your ears, everywhere,” said Marta Triggiano, project coordinator for Un Ponte Per, a partner organization of the Jordanian Women’s Union. “It’s super hot in summer, and it will be super cold in winter and this is the biggest problem.”

Jordan, a strategic American ally in the region, was also one of the first Arab countries to call for Syria’s President Bashar Al-Assad’s resignation. However, with more and more refugees pouring in to the country, the strains on the country are beginning to show.

“The problem is the location, the problem is the Syrians are angry,” said Triggiano. “The people are already psychologically unstable and this situation stresses them.”

In fact, protests and clashes in the Za’atari camp prompted the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to evacuate partner NGOs, such as the Jordan Health Aid Society (JHAS), whose team was evacuated to the entrance of the camp.

Tear gas affected three of the JHAS staff, but none were ever attacked or hurt by Syrian refugees, said Yaroup Ajlouni, president of JHAS.

“The more difficult situation is that winter is coming,” Ajlouni said, “This is a very difficult climate in the desert – cold mainly. “I think the (current) diseases will be more prevalent.”

Ajlouni expects that upper respiratory flu and gastroenteritis, sickness common among the refugees now, will rise exponentially come winter. He also cited flu vaccinations and a stronger focus on malnutrition as upcoming pushes to prepare for the winter.

Despite the difficult security situation and harsh conditions in the camp, the number of refugees living in camps is predicted to reach 150,000 people by the end of 2012, according to a recent report from UNHCR, a factor to consider when ordering supplies for winter.

Courtesy of Data Analysis Group for UNHCR.  Academic Fair Use
The winter season starts early December but UNHCR has already begun preparing. The NRC Rapid Response Team (RRT) issued a winterization report recommending the distribution of winter clothing and blankets, the addition of a fire resistant porch to the tents in the camp and a supply of family heating and fuel.

In addition, to avoid the possibility of further disputes among the Syrian refugees, UNHCR considers an early information campaign explaining what to expect this winter of “utmost importance.”

One current problem that might be alleviated by the change of season is water.

The variation between summer and winter is considerable. With the drop in temperatures often comes a drop in water consumption, leading to a minimal use of water, explained Mottaz Obaidat, representative of Yarmouk Water Company.

In fact, the average rainfall in Mafraq during the winter season is about 1.8 inches, one of the lowest in Jordan. As such, there is not a considerable risk of flooding in the camp and simple drainage ditches are all the RRT suggests are necessary.

Outside of the camp, an estimated 50,000 Syrians came to Jordan looking for a safe place to live. The majority of Syrians who came to Jordan before Za’atari was established came to stay with relatives or friends and live in urban areas.

The basic needs of these ‘urban refugees’ is money to cover the cost of living, food and other various demands of life, said Ahmed Albzayah, representative of the All Jordan Youth Commission.

After months of displacement, the Syrian refugees rely almost totally on charity aid for their survival. Those refugees who were able to find jobs – most commonly in construction, maintenance, sales or agriculture – cannot obtain a work permit and so are often exploited and underpaid.

For them, the winter could potentially mean a decrease in work, among other concerns.
“The situation of the urban refugees is much more difficult in some ways than the camp people because they are really on their own they don’t have much support at all,” said Kevin Fitzcharles, CARE country director of Jordan.

The support they do have primarily comes from organizations such as CARE who often offer basic care and support, however, this is only if the NGOs can find the refugees and vice versa.

“The big thing on everybody’s mind is how these people are going to cope in the winter,” Fitzcharles said.

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