During her recent official visit to Syria, Karen AbuZayd –Director-General of UNRWA, inaugurated the long-awaited Water Supply and Sanitation Project for Khan Dunoun and Khan Eshieh Camps, and the adjacent area. The project is funded mainly by the European Commission and the opening ceremony took place in Khan Dunoun refugee camp - situated 23 kilometres south of Damascus and considered one of the poorest camps in Syria.
Mohammed Soutari, the project manager, remembers what the camp looked like only a few years ago. "Sewage, especially in the winter, was flooding on the streets and one could see children playing in this environment". The construction of the sewage system (including surface storm water drainage) as well as paving of all the roads has significantly improved the conditions in Khan Dunoun. "This project has improved the life of camp inhabitants significantly. We are extremely happy with what has been gained so far, but complete happiness will come with the running water" says Soutari. He expects that the camp will enjoy running water no earlier than 2014.
At the moment the water comes from wells drilled as part of the project and from mobile tankers. Previously, camp inhabitants used to dig wells without official permission, often close to dug latrines. This constituted a serious health hazard. "Since the regulation of this issue, the spread of intestinal diseases has considerably decreased" says Soutari. At the same time, the mobile water tankers are not a guaranteed source of safe water and the purity of the water depends on the supplier. Thus, the camp is eagerly awaiting the last element of the project – running water.
As well as improving sanitation and water supplies, the project also delivers a community development programme aimed at improving employment opportunities in the camp. Many families can barely meet their basic needs, meaning many young people drop out of school early in order to contribute to their household×s income. The majority of men from the camp are farm workers on Syrian-owned land, some work in factories, while the rest are wage labourers. Only 30 percent of women from Khan Dunoun work. "They usually work as house-cleaners and do not earn a lot. Many of their domestic duties are delegated to their daughters, which discourages them from continuing their education" explains Sawsan al Sahli, a social worker in the camp.
The project offers numerous language, IT and engineering courses. Some course participants are already enjoying new jobs. 24-year-old Ahmad Khalifa attended an IT course for three months. Before the course he had been unemployed with no future prospects. Now he shares his time between two jobs. He works as a secretary at a construction office and as an IT tutor in UNRWA's training centre. "The Project provided numerous courses, not only those focused on employment, but also special training aimed at improving health, environmental awareness and protection" Sawsan explains. "This Project encompasses a whole range of aspects, not only water and sewage. It has changed the living situation of the Khan Dunoun population significantly" says Soutari.
The Water Supply and Sanitation Project for Khan Dunoun and Khan Eshieh Camps and Adjacent Area is part of a larger project funded by the European Union (8 million Euro) and the Syrian government (400,000 Euro) aiming at the preparation of studies and designs for regional water supply systems in the south-west rural Damascus area and at creating two large regional wastewater treatment facilities in order to serve a population of 400,000.