We all know that refugees live with the bare minimum; it is in the definition. They live in tents held up by metal wires, with mattresses and carpets scattered across the floors. What is new? We already know all of this. But we do not see the horrifying sanitary conditions in unregistered camps and the dangers they impose on refugees.
As a 17-year-old student who has seen these circumstances firsthand, I was astounded by the inadequate sanitation and hygiene practices at camps in Jordan. Working with refugees has been something I have always wanted to do ever since I was a child, but once I unfolded the layers and dug into the core of the problem, I found out how dire the situation was.
When entering the camps, you are immediately faced with troubling conditions. The first thing you notice is the lack of basic needs: No electricity or furniture, and looking further in, the situation in bathrooms is even worse. Dust and dirt have accumulated on walls, pipes leak from the ceilings and flushing systems malfunction often, resulting in an accumulation of waste which could cause major health issues, such as diarrheal diseases.
According to UNICEF, Jordan is the second most water-scarce country in the world. It is also the second most refugee-populated country in the Middle East, recording a ratio of refugees to residents of almost 1:6.
This lack of water and the high population of refugees causes extreme pressure on the country’s water supply, leaving many without access to clean running water. Having no running water leads to two issues: No proper cleaning of living spaces and a lack of adequate water supply for personal hygiene. Bacteria can quickly accumulate on bathroom surfaces, especially toilets. This accumulation can also be seen physically on the refugees themselves, with many having dirt plastered on their faces and bodies.
The lack of knowledge and coverage regarding the hygiene situation of unregistered refugee camps only amplifies the issue, because we are not exposed to the depths of the problem firsthand.
Diarrheal diseases are potentially fatal, and spread through in-person contact and contaminated water. This group of diseases alone is responsible for killing 525,000 children each year, the World Health Organization has said. The lack of clean water creates the perfect atmosphere for viral infections to spread, by forcing refugees to use contaminated water for survival. With no sustainable running water for washing, viruses can remain on surfaces for prolonged periods, latching onto specs of dirt layered among refugees. Even worse, tents often house up to five families, meaning that if one person is infected, everyone in the surrounding area becomes vulnerable. With no access to proper healthcare, many of these cases end up being fatal.
Although many registered camps — including the Zaatari camps — have access to systems such as WASH, as well as environmental infrastructure systems aiming to create sustainable methods for water, hygienic, and sanitation, most of the unregistered camps in small towns around Amman do not have access to these modernized services, leading to the spread of disease.
The lack of knowledge and coverage regarding the hygiene situation of unregistered refugee camps only amplifies the issue, because we are not exposed to the depths of the problem firsthand. We do not truly understand how serious it is. Moreover, not much work in the field is covered or advertised. Therefore, we do not know how to help.
Having worked to help refugees online through different platforms, the topic of sanitation was never present in the conversation. To truly take a step forward in increasing access to hygiene in unregistered camps in countries like Jordan, we must first publicly acknowledge the problem and discuss it. This will enlist numerous supporting organizations to take a step forward in supporting unregistered camps. It is essential to continue educating ourselves and speaking up about issues not highlighted in our day-to-day lives.
• Carmah Hawwari is a 17-year-old student who visited numerous refugee camps in Amman, Jordan.