April 4, 2014
As Jordan suffers from the influx of refugees from the Syrian civil war, JICA and Japan are involved in a range of cooperation to assist both the Syrian refugees and Jordanians.
Children in the Zaatari refugee camp
The influx of refugees from the Syrian civil war into neighboring Jordan that began in 2011 continues. While Jordan's population is 6.3 million people (2012), there are 587,308 Syrian refugees in Jordan (as of March 23, 2014), according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Including those who have not applied for refugee status with the UNHCR, there are said to be more than 600,000.
The Zaatari refugee camp, 15 kilometers from the Syrian border in northern Jordan, is one of the largest refugee camps in the world. The camp grows larger every year, and already is home to 100,000 Syrian refugees. Even so, the number of inhabitants is only a little less than 20 percent of the overall number of Syrian refugees in Jordan. Actually, more than 80 percent of Syrian refugees live their lives in ordinary Jordanian communities. Many have also left the camp because they were unable to stand the situation of waiting for distributions and of being unable to earn any cash income. Some also could not tolerate the insecurity of seeing safety conditions deteriorate by the day.
On the other hand, the sudden increase of the Syrian refugees is making the lives of the people of Jordan more difficult, as they were living under a fragile social infrastructure even before refugees came. In addition to cooperation for the refugee camp itself, it is also urgent to provide cooperation to the communities of Jordan taking in Syrian refugees.
Toshiaki Tanaka, chief representative of the JICA Jordan Office, center, and Junichi Kosuge, Japanese ambassador to Jordan, right, handing blankets to refugees in the camp.
In January 2013, the Zaatari refugee camp was flooded with heavy rain. The tents that housed the residents collapsed and temperatures fell below freezing. In response to this disaster, JICA distributed winter-use tents and blankets as urgent relief supplies. Also, hospitals and schools in host communities are clearly exceeding their capacity by accepting Syrian refugees. To mitigate these severe situations, JICA is providing medical equipment to hospitals, as well as white boards, desks, chairs and the like to schools.
It's important not just to provide supplies, but also to care for people mentally and physically. In children's facilities inside and outside the camp, Japan Overseas Cooperation Volunteers (JOCV) provide some emotional comfort for children scarred by civil war and by their lives as refugees, and conduct activities that supplement their short school hours. Also, JICA dispatches physical therapists as JOCV to support disabled persons forced to live difficult lives because of a lack of social infrastructure, and otherwise provides human assistance to help heal their injured minds and bodies.
A tent JICA provided as part of emergency relief in 2013, right, and a UNHCR tent, rear, in the Zaatari refugee camp
In this way, JICA is providing comprehensive cooperation at the grassroots and national levels to the Zaatari refugee camp, to host communities that have taken in refugees, and to the government of Jordan, a country that has taken in refugees. Partnering with UNHCR, which is providing refugee camp assistance with its expertise in emergency and humanitarian assistance, JICA is providing assistance based on its own strength of a long-term development outlook.
Before the Syrian refugees came, Jordan was already home to more than 2 million Palestinian refugees and many Iraqi refugees. The country has been suffering from recent changes in the Middle East situation and the side effects of steep increases in the prices of fuel and food. Moreover, the country has also been suffering from high unemployment, poverty centered on rural areas and regional disparities. The unemployment rate of the youth under 30 years old, who make up more than 70 percent of the population, is over 30 percent. Human resources development and job creation are urgent tasks. The government of Jordan is making great efforts to develop human resources, including through job training and higher education, and to ameliorate regional disparities in the areas of public health, education and welfare. To support these efforts, in 2012 JICA made a Japanese ODA loan of 12.2 billion yen. Moreover, to support the Jordanian government, which is in a difficult financial situation because of the large influx of Syrian refugees, JICA signed a new ODA loan agreement of 12 billion yen in 2014 for budget support at the national level.
A Jordanian elementary school. Because the number of students has grown greatly, classes have been divided into morning and afternoon sessions.
Drastic measures are needed to improve the social infrastructure of Jordan, which is expected to become more fragile due to the long-term effects of the Syrian civil war. With 75 percent of the country’s land located in arid areas, the amount of water resources available per capita in Jordan is approximately 145 cubic meters per year, far short of the 1,000 cubic meters defined as a water shortage. This makes Jordan one of the countries with the least water resources in the world. At the same time, water demand is increasing because of population growth, which results in a serious imbalance between water supply and demand. In response to the urgent water problem, JICA is providing both technical cooperation and grant aid to improve water and sewer services.
JICA supports the increasing number of refugees from Syria and their host country Jordan, in hope that the refugees may someday be able to return to their own country. Aiming to help both the Syrian refugees and the people of Jordan, JICA will continue its cooperation in the future.