In Rukban camp, residents now ‘beyond desperate’ without water

In a remote camp in southern Syria along the border with Jordan, 75,000 displaced residents are entering their second month without a steady source of water. At the same time, pro-Assad forces are advancing across southern Syria’s remote rebel-held Badia region. In their wake, they are reportedly seizing an unknown number of naturally occurring rainwater pools within newly captured desert territory.

Last month, a Jordanian-built water line supplying the Rukban border camp broke down. People must now buy and transport any water they use from a source more than six kilometers away, a Rukban resident told Syria Direct at the time.

“Things are beyond desperate,” Emad Abu a-Sham, a citizen journalist living in Rukban, tells Syria Direct’s Noura al-Hourani.

Q: Describe the pools of rainwater that were seized.

They are collections of winter rainwater. Their sizes differ from one place to another.

This water is not safe for drinking—rather, it is used for bathing, cleaning and for watering livestock and other animals. For [these purposes], it is the main source [of water] for residents of the desert.

It is also the main source [of water] for the internally displaced in the [Rukban and nearby Hadalat border] camps, as well as the Bedouins who live in the desert. It gets them through the summer season.

 Displaced families line up for water in Rukban. Photo courtesy of Palmyra News Network.

Q: What is the short-term impact on civilians of the regime taking control of the rainwater pools?

Residents depend on herding livestock, so they are very afraid of not being able to secure drinking water for their herds.

In addition, displaced people in Hadalat and Rukban rely on these water sources in their daily lives—especially recently, since the interruption of the water network coming in from Jordan, which remains broken. Today residents are still relying on water tanks.

Q: How far are the natural rainwater pools and water tanks from the Rukban camp? How do people retrieve water?

Distances vary because the water sources are spread out. Some are around 20km away [from Rukban] while others are as far away as 50km. People who own water tanks or water trucks will fill them up and sell the water to refugees in the camp for anywhere between SP500 [approx. $1] and SP1,000 [approx. $2] per barrel.

Q: People actually sell something so naturally occurring as rainwater even when there are those in the Rukban camp living in such abject poverty?

People here in Rukban would sell stones if they thought that it would help them out. Things are beyond desperate and families will do whatever they can to feed their children in light of the situation. I don't even have the words to describe it. Nothing can compare to actually seeing what the situation is like here.

Q: Is the Hadalat camp [a similar border camp roughly 70km southwest] suffering to the same extent as Rukban?

The situation in Rukban is far worse because the water lines that came from the Jordanian side of the border are still broken due to technical failure. People are now paying a lot of money to obtain drinking water and now they depend mainly on water tanks.

[Ed.: Head camp administrator Muayyid al-Abeed told Syria Direct last month he had “met with the Jordanian border guards” about the broken water line, but it is unclear whether efforts have been made since then to repair it. Jordanian government officials have not commented to the media about the damaged line.]

Noura Hourani

Noura Hourani studied English Literature at Tishreen University and previously worked as a private English tutor. She left Syria at the beginning of the conflict.

Madeline Edwards

Madeline Edwards graduated from the College of Charleston with a bachelor’s degree in International Studies and Political Science in 2016. She was a Critical Language Scholarship (CLS) recipient in Arabic in 2013. Her studies have brought her to Jordan, Palestine and Turkey.