Refugees of the Syrian Civil War in Jordan
As a small, aid-dependent country already suffering from financial and environmental issues, the number of Syrians seeking refuge in Jordan has created a strain on the country's resources, especially water and agriculture. As one of the top ten driest countries in the world, Jordanians' livelihood is already at risk, and the influx of new residents has only exacerbated the issue of water scarcity.
Syrian Civil War refugees
In the wake of the uprising against the Syrian government and its President Bashar al-Assad, beginning in 2011, close to 2000 Syrians per day began pouring into Jordan to reside in the first refugee camp near Mafraq, created by the UNHCR. As a small, aid-dependent country, already suffering from financial and environmental issues, the number of Syrians seeking refuge in Jordan has strained the country's resources especially water and agriculture. Jordan is one of the top ten driest countries in the world which endangers its citizens' livelihoods. The huge number of refugees has resulted in humanitarian aid organizations requesting more money and assistance from international powers. As of November 2015, UNHCR reported that there are 4,289,994 Syrian "persons of concern" of whom 630,776 are registered as refugees in Jordan. There are about 1.4 million Syrian refugees in Jordan, only 20 percent are living in the Za’atari, Marjeeb al-Fahood, Cyber City and Al-Azraq refugee camps. With the majority of the Syrian refugees interspersed throughout the state, especially in Amman, Irbid, Al-Mafraq, and Jerash, environmental resources are scarce for both Syrians and their Jordanian hosts. This increases pressure on Jordan’s infrastructure, specifically the provision of water supplies, sanitation facilities, housing, and energy.
As Syrians continue to flow into Jordan, tensions continue to rise and create pressure on its society. Tensions between Jordanian hosts and Syrian refugees are most prevalent in the cities and surrounding areas outside of refugee camps, where the majority have been relocated. In absorbing space, resources, jobs, and water over an extended period of time, these Syrian refugees might soon come into conflict with Jordanian residents. The "true" cost of hosting the refugees includes electricity and water subsidies costing the Jordanian government around $3,000 per year, per Syrian, as well as half of the Health Ministry's budget for medical care or $350 million. Roughly 160,000 jobs have been given to illegal Syrian workers while 20 percent of Jordan's citizens remain unemployed.
According to the UN high commissioner’s figures, the Azraq refugee camp had fewer than 23,000 refugees as of August 2105 though its capacity is 50,000. The UN plans call for Azraq to hold more than 100,000 Syrians, making it the largest refugee camp in Jordan. The nearby Zaatari refugee camp had about 80,000 refugees, according to the UN agency.
Overall, Jordan has taken in more than 630,000 registered Syrians since the crisis began in 2011, and Jordanian government estimates place the total refugee count including unregistered migrants at over 1.4 million. The United States has provided nearly $668 million in support, promising $3 billion over the next three years in general aid to support the Jordanian government.
Jordan is stepping up its scrutiny of incoming refugees having determined that many people waiting on the Syrian-Jordanian border are not Syrians and could, in fact, be tied to foreign fighter groups.
In another development, in late 2015, aid officials and refugees themselves said that Syrians, sensing that the war in their homeland will not end in the near future, are leaving Jordan for Europe in growing numbers encouraged friends and relatives who are already there, pushed out by cuts in UN food aid. Jordan says it hosts more than 1 million Syrians in total, but the numbers are starting to fall. The UN’s World Food Programme, which feeds more than half a million refugees in Jordan, says the number of aid recipients fell by about 2,000 in September and 3,000 in October. In a random survey of refugees in October 2015 by the UNHCR, 25 per cent said they were actively planning to leave Jordan.
There has been an “ongoing drought devastating agricultural prospects in the country’s northern areas for almost ten years,” making Jordan one of the driest countries in the world. The strain on water resources has been exacerbated by the huge “influx” of Syrian refugees to the Zaatari refugee camp, located in the border cities of Ar-Ramtha and Mafraq. As a result of “rapid population growth,” the quantity of drinkable water available on average to the Jordanian population is less than 150 cubic meters per year. The renewable water supply, provided by rainfall, only creates 50 percent “of the total water consumption” so the remainder must be extracted from “aquifers that are slowly being depleted.” Water is one resource without the capacity for foreign support, forcing Jordanians to make do with their own resources. Jordan, as a nation, depends largely on foreign aid and its scarce water resources are not renewable. The extraction of groundwater has sustained the population in recent decades but, with the influx of Syrian refugees, the supply of groundwater is declining. One can purchase expensive water sold by the truckload by local businessmen, but most cannot afford this luxury. Humanitarian aid organizations like Oxfam and Mercy Corps have made efforts to uncover more water in the Za’atari camp by digging wells, but this will only provide temporary, small-scale relief.
The US Agency for International Development in combination with Mercy Corps has created a project that will cost $20 million and will find a way to revive Jordanian water systems. USAID has also funded water conservation efforts in Za’atari village, subsidizing cisterns to store rainwater for individual families. These groundwater harvesting systems are part of an initiative begun in 2006 by Mercy Corps, the Jordan River Foundation, and the Royal Scientific Society, with the assistance of over 135 local Jordanian organizations to help rural families find affordable and clean water. The program is called the Community-Based Initiative for Water Demand Management. The system pipes water down to ground level where a storage container allows each family to collect and save water for themselves. Mercy Corps has taken action in the Za’atari camp drilling two wells to build a pump station, as well as a chlorination system, to supply clean water to a large number of refugees there. Mercy Corps also plans to work with the new Al-Azraq camp in “constructing a new water supply system.” In the Jordanian communities of Mafraq and Ramtha, Mercy Corps is working to repair municipal water systems to fix leaks that will potentially increase water availability up to 25 percent. Aid organizations’ humanitarian efforts have become focused on sustaining the long-term survival and cohesion of Syrian refugees and Jordanians, as explained by Dr. Ibrahim Sayf, Jordan’s minister of planning and international cooperation. Due to Jordan's lack of water resources, these humanitarian efforts are designed to alleviate the burden of water scarcity exacerbated by the increased population in the wake of the Syrian revolution.
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