‘We feel lifeless’: Heat stroke hits displaced residents living in desert no-man’s land on Syrian-Jordanian border

AMMAN: A two-week heat wave in the makeshift displacement camps along the border between Syria and Jordan has killed two children and caused dozens of cases of heat stroke as temperatures soar past 100 degrees Fahrenheit, sources inside the camp told Syria Direct on Thursday.

At the Rukban camp—where 75,000 displaced people live in the demilitarized no-man's land between Syria and Jordan—temperatures have spiked since the beginning of July, reportedly reaching as high as 116 degrees Fahrenheit (47 degrees Celsius).

During the latest heat wave, the poorly equipped medical clinic that serves the desert camp has admitted “three to four cases of heat stroke per day,” Emad al-Ghali, the clinic’s director, told Syria Direct on Thursday.

Temperatures at the camp were cooler on Thursday, al-Ghali said, at 109 degrees Fahrenheit (43 degrees Celsius).

Last week, two children in Rukban died of severe heat stroke, the Turkish-based Revolution Forces of Syria Media Office reported on July 4. Al-Ghali confirmed the deaths of the two children, adding that families did not wish to provide the media with the children’s names or any personal details.


 Tents in the Rukban camp. Photo courtesy of Emad al-Ghali.

Sun stroke, or heat stroke, is caused when internal body temperature becomes dangerously high. Symptoms include headache, high fever, disorientation and redness of the skin.

Young children are especially vulnerable to heat stroke, which can result in loss of consciousness, organ failure and death if the body temperature is not reduced.

Both al-Ghali and another Rukban resident, a father of six, told Syria Direct on Thursday that they are most worried about the children currently living in the makeshift camp.

Women and children make up 66 percent of Rukban's 75,000 residents, according to a March 2017 report by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. Most live in patchwork tents that offer minimal protection from temperatures during summer months, which on average peak at 35 degrees Celsius (95 degrees Fahrenheit) during the month of July.

“We feel lifeless whether in the winter or the summer because our worn-out tents [cannot keep out] the intense temperatures,” Abu Mohammed, a father of six who has lived in Rukban for a year and half, told Syria Direct on Thursday.

During the recent heat wave, Abu Mohammed has kept his six children from leaving the family’s tent between the hours of 11AM and 5PM, fearing the scorching summer sun.

Rukban camp on July 2. Photo courtesy of the Tribal Council of Palmyra and Badia.

A key measure to prevent heat stroke is adequate hydration, a major issue for Rukban residents, whose main water line malfunctioned in mid-June, Syria Direct reported at the time.

Now, residents in the displacement camp must walk up to seven kilometers to get drinking water, with the Jordanian-run water line still non-operational.

“We’re living in the desert under direct sunlight—we can’t walk that far to get a gallon of water,” Abu Aisha, a 22-year-old father living in Rukban told Syria Direct last month.

Both al-Ghali and Abu Mohammed confirmed that the main water line has not yet been fixed. Syria Direct contacted the head administrator of the Rukban camp for an update on repairs, but he was not available for comment.

“We have to ration the water so that it can last the entire day,” Abu Mohammed tells Syria Direct.

As for treatment for those who come down with heat stroke, Rukban’s only medical clinic has few options, al-Ghali says.

To try to cool down the bodies of patients suffering from heat stroke, staff members lay them down with their legs elevated and provide fever reducers.

Nurses apply cold compresses or ice to the patients’ foreheads to get their internal temperature below 100.5 degrees Fahrenheit (38 degrees Celsius) and prevent the possibility of brain damage, added al-Ghali.

Most of Rukban’s residents fled Islamic State rule in eastern Syria in recent years. These internally displaced families began setting up makeshift encampments in mid-2014 at the informal border crossings along Syria’s southeastern border with Jordan, Rukban and its nearby sister encampment, Hadalat. 

Bahira al-Zarier

Bahira is from Damascus. She studied business and marketing before moving to Jordan in 2013. She did volunteer work in support of many refugee organizations before joining Syria Direct.

Tariq Adely

Tariq Adely graduated from Brown University in 2014 with a bachelor's degree in comparative literature and translation. He continued his studies at the Qasid Institute and the Institute for Critical Thought in Amman, Jordan.