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Q: Sanitation in Jordan refugee camps ( Answered 5 out of 5 stars,   1 Comment )
Subject: Sanitation in Jordan refugee camps
Category: Miscellaneous
Asked by: dogsbollocks-ga
List Price: $7.00
Posted: 21 Aug 2003 10:36 PDT
Expires: 20 Sep 2003 10:36 PDT
Question ID: 247322
This question actually has three parts:
1) In Palestinian refugee camps, do families usually have toilets in
their houses ?
2) Kitchens in their houses ?
3) What happened during the 50's-60's when they lived in tents ?
I am particularly interested in Jabel al-Hussein camp on the outskirts
of Amman, BUT this question is really to do with their conditions in

Request for Question Clarification by leli-ga on 24 Aug 2003 05:17 PDT
Hello - and thanks for the recent questions! I had a look at all three
with a Palestinian theme, after getting interested in one of your
previous queries about the refugee camps in Jordan.

They're quite a challenge and this question is the one I can come
nearest to answering. I'll tell you what I have, so you can say if it
would be a useful answer for you.

1 toilets -  an answer as to whether houses in Jabal Al-Hussain camp
have a private toilet
2 kitchens - some information on cooking arrangements in the camps,
including those in Jordan
3 information about sanitation (toilets, water, baths) in the camps in
the 1950s
  informed speculation about cooking in the camps in the 50s and 60s
with some    information which might be relevant to your other
question about food in the camps in that era

Just let me know if you feel this would be satisfactory.


Clarification of Question by dogsbollocks-ga on 24 Aug 2003 09:23 PDT
Hi Leli,
Yes, I would be very pleased to receive an answer concerning the
topics which you mention.
I have another, related question - I am writing a fiction book based
on true events, 1/3 of which (appx 70-80 pages) is concerned with a
Palestinian family. I am wondering if either you or anyone you know
would be willing / able to cast their eye on my "palestinan related"
writing and see whether I got the FACTs right, i.e. alert me if I made
an obvious mistake before I send my work to a publisher !
I will, of course pay for this service, and also be willing to mention
their name in the "acknowledgements" section of the book.
I would prefer the person to be Palestinian and knowledgeable about
conditions in the camps throughout 50s- today.
Please let me know
Subject: Re: Sanitation in Jordan refugee camps
Answered By: leli-ga on 25 Aug 2003 04:38 PDT
Rated:5 out of 5 stars
Hi - thanks for your message.


There are private toilets for households in the camps in Jordan,
although some refugees in Amman who live outside the camps may have to
share facilities. However, a private toilet is not always indoors and
is not necessarily a flush toilet, as you will see in the following

Report from 1980:
The programme of phasing out communal latrines and providing private
latrines instead has almost been completed and Agency support for the
construction of additional private latrine units to meet the needs of
a growing camp population continues. [...] In Jordan. the Government
sewerage schemes at Jabal el-Hussein and Amman New camps, located in
Amman Municipal area, are progressing satisfactorily.

"The camps have developed into quarters which resemble the
neighbourhoods around them, thanks to the refugees themselves who have
worked hard to improve their conditions and to the Government of
Jordan, which has invested large amounts of funds to provide the camps
with basic infrastructure."

"Although they all have private toilets there is no sewerage network
and sewage flows into open ditches along roads and pathways."

"All shelters are supplied with water and electricity and have private
toilets but only 60 percent are connected to the unfinished sewerage
system. The rest use percolating pits."

West Bank 1994
"According to a recent survey,household indoor standards have remained
relatively poor.  Only approximately half the households in the West
Bank camps and villages had a separate bathroom and inside flush


It seems certain that many houses in Al-Hussain have their own indoor
kitchen. But remember that not every house is the same; families have
added to the basic shelter (the original one-room shelter supplied by
UNRWA) according to their incomes and energies. Some of the very
poorest Palestinians in Jordan seem to be without a separate kitchen,
but the references I found to this were about refugees living outside
the official camps. Refugees' incomes may vary considerably; there is
information about this here (starts page 25):
Or in this version:

"In many areas, particularly in Gaza, the original outdoor latrines
and simple cooking sheds have only recently been replaced by indoor
toilet blocks and kitchens connected to central water and sewage
networks. In several camps, this process is still ongoing, 40 years
after these housing units were first occupied."

"The camp covers an area of 1.4 sq. km. The shelters, which usually
consist of two or three small rooms, a small kitchen and bathroom on
an area of maximum 40 sq. m, are packed closely together. Narrow
alleys and pathways, some less than one meter wide, run between the
shelters. The camp lacks basic infrastructure. Solid waste is
collected by UNRWA's sanitation labourers. Water is supplied by the
local municipality or comes from UNRWA and private water wells."

Many kitchens will be very simple. On the West Bank in 1994 only 10%
were described as "fitted":

Amman, but not Al-Hussein:
"the sons of the three groups of refugees (laji'een 1948, naziheen
1967, and 'a'ideen 1991) either stay in the same housing unit after
they marry in a separate room and share the kitchen and the bathroom,
or they try to rent a house in the area"

"The majority of the families still live in the small, one or two room
concrete shelters constructed by UNRWA in the 1950s and are often
shared by nine or ten people. Furniture is practically non existent in
the living quarters, except for the occasional mattress, and kitchens
and sanitary facilities are small and insufficient. Many shelters do
even not have bathrooms."

1948-49, 1950S, 1960S

Although some camps offered ready-prepared meals to the neediest
refugees, most people did basic cooking right from the start of the
camps. Flour and rice were the staple foods, the main or only rations
supplied by the Red Cross and UN. People collected firewood; I assume
some cooking was done on open fires.
Once the one-room shelters were built, cooking was done in the single
living/sleeping room or in a tent or cooking shed just outside.

I hope these excerpts will give you an overview of the situation,
which must have varied somewhat from place to place.

"We were packed into the Red Cross tents – whole families under one
small tarp. There was no privacy, which was especially bad for the
women, and no toilets. It was three years before the Red Cross built
toilets in the camp: even by 1952 there were only two toilets for 25
families. But in the first years, we women would wait all day until
cover of darkness to go to the edge of the camp and relieve ourselves.

It was winter and mud was everywhere. There was no sewage system at
all. When it rained, the tents would flood with freezing, stinking
water. We had no electricity or water. The cold and the rain and the
filth were our constant enemies, making life miserable, making our
children sick. Our other biggest problem was water. Everyday we walked
two kilometers through steep terrain to find the small springs in the
area. And we collected wood for cooking and heating and picked wild
figs and almonds for food.


So we hauled water and collected wild food."

Bourj-Al-Shamali camp has a website with a camp history section:

Bathrooms were set-up for both men and women respectively in different
areas, but only one shower room was created. Families were told that
they had to go together at a designated time, usually once or twice a
week.[...] Allowances were also given to the families to help pay for
food and supplies.

Lunches were prepared for the poorer families on a daily basis. UNRWA
brought in drinking water for the refugees but in quantities that
would never last long enough. Women would therefore hike outside the
camp in order to fill buckets which they carried back to the camp on
their heads.

Availability of water in the camp was a problem. UNRWA supplied water
through only one pipe, to a container, for the whole camp. Each person
was allotted 18 litres of water, which was not enough. To get extra
water the women had to go to nearby villages. The closest village was
Al-Ane, 1.5 kilometers away. They also got water from Al-Bass, 3
kilometers away, and Al-Mashero, which was 1 kilometer away.
UNRWA hired people to clean the camp bathrooms. The bathrooms were
small and not built well. UNRWA also hired people to remove garbage
from all the houses. Every day the garbage was burnt beside the
houses, which polluted the air."

"By the end of the 1950s and the beginning of the 1960s, the refugees
started to improve their housing conditions by constructing additional
rooms next to their units. Supported by UNRWA, the refugees started to
build their own latrine units (septic tanks) and gave up using the
communal latrines."

"When UNRWA began operations in 1950[...]
Environmental health conditions were appalling with most refugees
living in tents or communal barracks. Water was collected from public
distribution points and communal toilets and bath houses were the only
sanitation facilities."

"Um Naif [...] collected firewood herself. She would start a fire
every morning to heat water for bathing, washing clothes, cooking and


Over the decades, flour and rice are always mentioned as staple foods
for the refugees. Other foods commonly mentioned are oil, sugar,
lentils and sometimes chickpeas or milk powder.

"They landed at a refugee camp on the outskirts of Bethlehem. It would
be Hussein's home for 10 years. The United Nations handed out rations
once a month -- half a bar of soap per person, three kilograms of
flour, some lentils and rice. They lived in tents. Blindness was
commonplace among children because of Vitamin A deficiency."

Queuing for rice in 1948

"One of the most urgent tasks UNRWA faced was to reduce malnutrition
and undernourishment amongst infants and children. In 1951, a
supplementary feeding programme was started to provide fresh mid-day
meals to children up to age 15, as well as monthly dry rations, milk
and cod liver oil to children, pregnant and nursing women and
tuberculosis patients."

"There was a United Nations ration supply that would supply refugees
with rations like flour and rice and things of that nature"

Information on hot meal programmes, flour rations and health in the
late 60s and 70s:

I didn't find any reference to aid agencies issuing camping stoves, as
they do nowadays in emergencies.

So how could the refugees turn the flour into bread without kitchens?

These are the possibilities: 

Traditional Palestinian way of baking flat bread on metal over a fire:

"A large round flat piece of metal  [...]'women place this over fire
to bake bread,'"

Those who had them could also have used small traditional clay ovens
(tabouns) or makeshift ovens put together from scrap metal, blocks

Also the Palestinian tradition of a village oven carried over into
communal ovens in the camps. With this arrangement, a woman can make
her bread at home and take it to the camp taboun to be baked.

These recent pictures and excerpts give an idea of the possibilities.

"Seham, a resident of Am-Nassuriat refugee camp, bakes traditional
bread in an outdoor oven, the main source of nutrition for the family"

Picture of a small clay oven or taboun:

April 2003 Al Mawasi, Gaza. The outdoor kitchen  of the Najar family
inside the Al Mawasi area in the most south eastern corner of Gaza.
The family is preparing their dinner mostly consisting of bread from
flour distributed by UNRWA and baked in the traditional clay oven. The
family lives with running water one hour per day and without
electricity except from 5 to 12 o’clock in the evening when the
municipal generator is running. (Photo by S. Matz).

"I watch Sameetha, seated cross-legged on the concrete floor, mixing
flour and water, and kneading dough into flat, round, pizza-sized
loaves. She has only a hot plate, no oven. She must send the loaves
outside her home to be baked.
For meals, we sit on the floor around a low table. We do not use
spoons, knives, or forks. At each meal, Sameetha distributes freshly
baked bread loaves, the main staple at all meals."
excerpt from Grace Halsell’s
Journey to Jerusalem:

Reference to the "taboun building" in a camp:

"52% of Jenin camp’s women respondents reported baking bread on a
daily basis."


And I wanted to include this feel-good touch of colour:
"Gardens sprout from the most unlikely places, like in northern
Amman's densely populated Palestinian refugee camps. Here, tiny
gardens provide a bit of fruit, vegetables, herbs, and greenery among
concrete houses packed in this impoverished neighbourhood."

I hope you find this useful; I certainly found it interesting. As I
read, I noticed a few "political" points. Homes are often called
shelters to recognise the Palestinian wish to see them as temporary
Some websites are so committed to describing the refugees' hardship,
they may downplay any improvement in conditions. In contrast, one or
two are keen to praise the efforts of the Jordanian authorities.

As you know, you have only to ask if you would like anything

Some of the material seems to overlap with your other question about
food. Perhaps you may want to add a clarification there to let
researchers know what you are still seeking?

Thank-you for letting me know about your novel, which sounds
fascinating. If only I were knowledgeable enough about Palestinian
culture to help you out with checking background authenticity . . . 
And I'm afraid I don't know anyone I could suggest. If there is a
researcher here qualified to help, it would have to be done within the
Google Answers framework. That is, you would have to post your work
somewhere on the net for a researcher to read, since private contact
is not allowed.
One thought is that you could post a question asking for websites
through which you might be able to  contact people with a refugee
background in Jordan, or perhaps Palestinians in English-speaking

Good luck with your writing!

Best Wishes - Leli

Search strategy involved combinations of:
Palestinian refugees camp camps
toilets sanitation 
kitchen cooking stove oven baking food taboun
1950s 1960s 1948
dogsbollocks-ga rated this answer:5 out of 5 stars and gave an additional tip of: $13.00
Leli, many thanks for your answer. On consideration I think it's the
best one I received to date from Google researchers !
As you've also answered another question in the process, I am happy to
include payment for both as a tip.
I would love it if you could look at the other 2 open questions
(Sharia Islamic law and property deeds) to see whether you can answer
them !
With best regards

Subject: Re: Sanitation in Jordan refugee camps
From: leli-ga on 25 Aug 2003 12:45 PDT
First of all, I must say a big thank-you for your generosity, both in
words and dollars.
I'm really pleased you found the answer helpful. As I said in my first
message, I wasn't at all sure it answered either question fully, so
it's great to find that you were pleased with the information I dug
up. I love working on research for novelists. It's so satisfying to
contribute details which will help build up the sense of a particular
time and place. And, of course, it was an interesting topic - so much
to learn about the Palestinian way of life.
I certainly will look at your other questions, but I'm not too hopeful
about the property deeds one. Will let you know if I find anything

Once again, many thanks - Leli

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