This originally appeared on FrontLines.
Zaatari village lies just south of Jordan’s border with Syria, where small villages are interspersed with livestock, olive farms, dairies and food factories. In 2009, Ahmed Al Khaldi received a $1,700, USAID-funded revolving loan from his village cooperative to install a 30-cubic-meter cistern to store rainwater harvested off his roof. The 51-year-old retired police officer knew it would give his family peace of mind during recurring periods of water scarcity.
Jordan is among the driest countries in the world. Rapid population growth has reduced the amount of fresh water available to the average Jordanian to less than 158 cubic meters per year—10 times less than the average U.S. citizen consumes. The renewable water supply—the water that is replenished each year by rainfall—only meets about half of total water consumption. The rest of the water used in Jordan comes primarily from aquifers that are slowly being depleted; alternative sources such as desalination are very expensive.
As is typical across the country, municipal water was delivered infrequently in Zaatari. If the storage tank ran out, the Al Khaldi family had to buy expensive truckloads of water from local businessmen. “With the cistern, I feel secure. Every time I need water, I just pump it from the cistern,” he says. “We can even share with neighbors if they run out of water.”
The cistern does not meet all the water needs of the Al Khaldi family. But it does provide important support for three generations of Al Khaldi’s immediate family—15 members in all—living under one roof.
Al Khaldi also couldn’t imagine that this cistern would eventually help him throw a lifeline to relatives living hundreds of kilometers away in Homs, Syria. Like many Jordanians in the north, his tribe lives on both sides of the border. In 2011, his Syrian cousin, Ahmad Swaidan, fled to Jordan with his wife and five children and his brother’s five children. “The shelling threatened our lives daily,” Swaidan says.
Like 200 other families in Zaatari, the Al Khaldis took in their Syrian relatives, housing them in an adjacent family property. By local estimates, the village’s Jordanian population of 8,000 had absorbed 2,000 Syrian refugees by November 2012. Al Khaldi says “it’s not easy” to support an additional 12 people on his monthly pension of $500 and the modest army salaries of his three sons—two of them married. “But we share,” he says…[continued]
Read the rest of the article on FrontLines.