AMMAN: Tens of thousands of residents of Syria’s largest camp for internally displaced people in northern Idlib province are without water for a fifth day on Thursday, the latest in a series of shortages and cuts to hit the underserved settlement.
Located along the border between Syria’s rebel-held northern Idlib province and Turkey, Atma is a collection of 54 informal camps. The settlement’s 60,000 residents live in threadbare tents, rely on aid deliveries and make do without a developed water infrastructure. As a result, they rely on aid organizations for water, which is brought into the camp by water tankers on a daily basis.
The tankers have not come since Monday, when more than 45 of the drivers launched a strike against Syrian Green Hands, the sole aid group that delivers water to Atma, says Ahmad al-Khaled, one of the drivers participating in the strike. Al-Khaled also lives in Atma.
“The payment per water delivery was lowered from $6 to $5.5” on Monday, prompting the strike, al-Khaled told Syria Direct. “Our income relies solely on wages from [the Syrian Green Hands], so we didn’t have any other choice but to go on strike.”
Syria Direct reached out to Syrian Green Hands for comment on Wednesday, but did not receive a response.
Displaced children at Atma carry signs demanding water on Sept. 27, 2016. Photo courtesy of Khaled al-Thafiri.
The water shortage is affecting the entire settlement, says Khaled al-Thafiri, a director of one of Atma’s 54 sub-camps. “All of Atma, including all of its sub-camps, is cut off from water,” he told Syria Direct.
Many of Atma’s displaced residents are dependent on the deliveries of water and aid parcels provided by relief organizations.
“Since arriving at Atma, I have relied on the monthly rations given to me by relief groups,” Furat Hamsho, a 30-year-old mother of 5 from Idlib province, told Syria Direct. “The water cutoff has been very hard on me. I have no reliable way to provide for my children.”
Desperate for aid, camp residents launched protests on Tuesday demanding water, says al-Thafiri. “Their demands received no attention from aid organizations.”
Al-Thafiri said charity groups sent some urgent water supplies into the camp on Wednesday morning, but thousands of people remain without a reliable water source as the drivers’ strike continued into Thursday.
“Water is life,” reads a sign held by striking water tanker drivers on Thursday. Photo courtesy of Ahmad al-Khaled
“What’s going on inside Atma is very tragic,” says al-Thafiri, himself a displaced person from Hama living inside the camp.
“If the situation continues like this, it will be catastrophic for the people living here.”
‘The people cannot afford to buy bread’
This week’s strike marks the second time this month people in Atma say they’ve been cut off from vital aid.
Atma residents and camp director Khaled al-Thafiri told Syria Direct this month that IHH Humanitarian Foundation, the Turkish NGO responsible for delivering bread to the camp, stopped doing so roughly three weeks ago.
“About  days ago, the bread was cut off,” says Hamsho, the displaced mother of 5. “Every part of my life here [in Atma] is hard, but the worst part was losing bread supplies.”
“We don’t know why the bread support was cut off,” director al-Thafiri told Syria Direct.
IHH did not reply to Syria Direct’s request to comment last week about the bread cutoff, which residents – most of whom have little or no income – say has made life in Atma extremely difficult.
“A package of bread costs SP200 (approx. $1),” al-Thafiri says. “The people cannot afford to buy bread.”
Though Atma’s displaced were told a lack of funds caused the bread cutoff, some are suspicious. “I and many other people living in the camp think the bread cutoff was meant to pressure us into returning back to our hometowns,” Hamsho told Syria Direct.
The bread and water shortages are a devastating blow to Syrians already struggling to get by in the encampment, where residents have complained of food shortages, overcrowding and inadequate shelter.
“We have been abandoned so much that our biggest demand is now just a loaf of bread,” Hamsho tells Syria Direct.