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Water, Sanitation and Infrastructure Issues in Shuafat Refugee Camp

Water, Sanitation and Infrastructure Issues in Shuafat Refugee Camp


Introduction to Shuafat Refugee Camp

Shuafat refugee camp was established in 1965 for the Palestinian people who were evicted from their homes and forced to live in the refugee camp. Israel had established such place in order to force the Palestinian people to live in one area and use their homes for the Israeli population. However, the Palestinian in the camp were promised a well care that fulfills their necessary needs from water, sanitation services, electricity, medical care and other needs that the Palestinians  need while living in the camp. Shuafat camp estimates a population of 80,000 people that originally started with 1,600 people. The population grows and so do its needs and responsibilities. However, the camp is not doing well at any level or criteria. The previous water agreement in 1956 between the Jordanian government and UNRWA was to aid the refuges through all conditions necessary is not fulfilling or completing its role.

Water and sanitation services are at the extreme level of destroying the camp with its living population. The depravation of water for the refugees pressed the people to pursue water by stealing from nearby settlements. The national water company Hagihon was and still not providing water for the area that is responsible for. Lack of water along with sanitation services not being provided for the refugees created a chaos in the camp. The neglect towards the Palestinian refugees in the camp caused severe damage on public health; less safety in streets from flooded sewage and air pollution from the compact of garbage on the streets as well as burned garbage in every dumpster corner. Shuafat refugee camp deals with massive violations that Palestinian refugees deal with on daily basis; lack of support in water supplies and sanitation services, health issues, shelter deficiency, exceeded amount of population, social conflicts among each other and political clashes.

Depravation is the tool used by Israel on the Palestinian refugees to reach the ultimate goal of a failed community for the Palestinians. Their aim is to impose harsh and unbearable living conditions for the Palestinian refugees.  Israel’s goal is to force the Palestinians to have indecent life standards. Palestinians living within a large amount of population, no safety homes, wrecked water supplies and no sanitation care. this allows Israel to enjoy a better living standard and reach a higher control over more territories on the Eastern side of Jerusalem, as people are evicted, or forced to leave their homes in the old city of Jerusalem. High prices of home rents and merchandises are unfit with the economic lifestyle the Palestinian had as living in the city. Therefore, the Palestinian refugees left their homes in the city willingly to a less pricy place with drained living conditions to afford living. Depravation is the main outcome of the neglect imposed on the refuges in Shuafat camp. Based on the depravation of water, food and safe living the camp is under extreme pressure and community failure.

History of Shuafat Refugee Camp

During 1965 Shuafat refugee camp was established by King Hussein to support Palestinian refugees and displaced families who were either evicted from their homes in the old city of Jerusalem, or Palestinians abandoned their residences by choice to seek an easier and more affordable life that include homes, bills and other essential needs for well living such as groceries. At the start of the camp’s establishment it was a shelter for nearly 1,600 Palestinian refugees. Today, the camp holds nearly 80,000 refugees. The location of the camp had been included within the Jerusalem Municipality (JM) ever since 1967 as it is located on the West Bank part. 

Palestinian refugees in Shuafat camp were under the responsibility of the Jerusalem Municipality and the UNRWA since the camp was established. The Jerusalem Municipality and UNRWA offered various types of services for the camp’s residents to maintain a decent living. The aim of the support was to guarantee a better life conditions for the Palestinians refugees in the camp than what they pre-lived. The JM included help services of affordable food cans, taxes, insurance, street lights, sidewalks, house demolishing, and sanitation services such as trash cans change and sewage infrastructure . Water usage is also included in the services provided for the people under the water agreement signed in 1956 by the four governments; Turkey, Jordan and Egypt, Israel and UNRWA.

Water, Sanitation and Infrastructure Issues

Water support conditions had changed, during the establishment of the camp in 1965, the water supplies and infrastructure were both new and working well. The sufficient access to water had changed to conditions of lacking water for the numerous Palestinian refugees who started to join the camp. The camp’s population rate was raised up to 80,000 Palestinian from the refugees and the Jerusalem city residents who had joined the refugees in the camp. The situation by which outside residents from the city joining the camp is the reason why Hagihon and UNRWA decided to back down on their responsibility and duty towards the camp. When the number of the camp’s residents elevated to 80,000 it created obstacles regarding water usage and sanitation receipting services. The water issue raises several conflicts of the public health; sanitation wise and domestic usage.

The population’s high rate is an essential reason to the water issue occurring in the camp. UNRWA is responsible to provide services and needs for the 1,600 Palestinian refugees, however; when the number of 1,600 Palestinian living in Shuafat camp was increased up to 80,000 Palestinian refugees, the task handled by the UNRWA became a considerable issue and a bigger responsibility on them to deal with. For that reason, the major role the UNRWA was taking to help the refuges became a burden rather than reliability. According to this fact, the responsibility the UNRWA was having towards the camp stopped. Until today, there is no sufficient access to clean water for the refugees to use in the camp. The Palestinian refugees are dealing with water issues that are either inadequate for personal and domestic use or dealing with polluted water that affects their health and causes diseases and deaths.

The water company Hagihon distributes water to all Jerusalem areas from the main water supplier Mekorot. Since Shuafat camp was established it received adequate water from Hagihon for all types of use throughout the camp. However, up until mid 1980’s the entire camp had access to municipal services such as food, sufficient water was provided and basic infrastructure of roads, homes, water and power supplies. Water supplies are an essential part of the municipal services. Hagihon Water Company ceased supplying water when both the growth rate exceeded and city residents moved in to the camp.  The neglect to support the refugees with enough clean water to maintain a healthy lifestyle; that includes domestic use and personal use such as hygiene increased the risks and violation of an unsanitary life and health issues. The national water company Hagihon is responsible to provide water in all Jerusalem area; however, the water company had clarified it is unable to fulfill the task of providing sufficient clean water to Shuafat refugee camp due to the over populated rate.

Ras Khamis is an area with more privileges to means of survival such as water and as it is considered the well off neighborhood in the camp. Its living conditions are better than any other neighborhood in the camp. The population in Ras Khamis is more independent financially which allows them to pay bills and have better suitable conditions. It is the closest area to Pisgat Ze’ev settlement which makes Ras Khamis the most area benefitting in terms of water access and usage. Ras Khamis residents connect a pipe to the main water pipe (main line) of Pisgat Ze’ev for water conveyance. This connected cylinder helps the refugees in Ras Khamis to have access to water from the settlement itself. The previous former Mayer AlJoulany who was leading the camp in 1976 explained “the water theft happens through digging underground and attaching pipes from Pisgat Ze’ev settlement to provide for the entire camp”. The settlement has access to clean sufficient water four to five times more than the Palestinians inside and outside Shuafat refugee camp.

The rest of the neighborhoods in the camp have water shortage and are unable to be as privileged as Ras Khamis neighborhood. However, Ras Khamis being privileged does not necessary mean it is in much better condition than other areas in the camp. The other neighborhoods’ means of obtaining water is based on three different methods: first, the refugees depend on the water pipes that run only twice a day in order to fill their containers. Second, the refuges spend money on daily basis to buy clean water bottles adequate for drinking and other domestic uses from stores in the camp. Third, the refuges also steal from next door neighbors and Ras Khamis’ residents. The refugees either use their neighbors’ saved up hidden tanks or they connect more pipes to the original pipe/source and consume water from there. Regardless of what method they use to get water to their homes, “the stolen water is also unsatisfactory for summer use. The water during summer is either unavailable or disrupted” said by Tarek Abu Sneneh. Tarek also mentioned that for this reason “water in Ras Khamis is stolen from Pisgat Ze’ev settlement” to have water for daily use. The use of water in the summer exceeds the amount of water use in winter and other time of year. It shows how much troubled the camp is, and how much of an unmanageable place it is for living.

The UNRWA was handling all the municipal services needed for the camp, but has been neglecting its duty for the past fifteen years. Since 1996 the popular committee in Shuafat refugee camp has been in charge over the municipal services offered for the refugees in the camp. One of these services includes sanitation services which involve sewage treatment and garbage disposal, improved infrastructure, pollution control and similar sanitation care and services. During the 80’s Mayer Aljoulany had worked on organizing the sewage infrastructure in the camp as Israel cared to provide the necessary services needed for the refugees in the camp. He had mentioned several conflicts that the camp and its residents are dealing with. His observations were clear and pointed how “in the present day, the organization is absent, there is no follow up by any municipality or UNRWA on the insurance services or public services such as street lights, homeland phones, sewage disposal, water drains repair and streets improvements” said Mayer Aljoulany. The Israeli municipality should be handling the municipal services for the camp. However, they abandon their part of responsibility and only attend the camp when their own profit is gained from tax payments, arrests, and house demolishing and insurance services. Their responsibility of municipal services for street lights, sidewalks, waste disposal and similar tasks is neglected.

The waste products are another factor that jeopardizes the sanitation factor in Shuafat camp. Waste products of household waste such as garbage or demolition waste like building destruction are piled in quantity in nearly every street around the camp. The UNRWA gives less concerns about helping the camp, “one dumpster pickup vehicle attends the camp once a day by midnight for garbage disposal. The vehicle does not circle around every the trash can or garbage dumpster, it does not reach all places of the camp” said Abdullah A’lqam. One cleanup car once a day for some areas in the camp does not provide sanitation services. This issue causes the garbage to compile around the camp. The refugees’ only solution for the problem is to burn the garbage which causes pollution in the camp, which adds another type of sanitation issue imposed on the residents to deal with in the camp.

A refugee from the camp explained his struggle with the garbage situation near his house in Alhara Altahta. The dumpster is swarming around his house which “disrupts frequently disrupts the atmosphere around his house” Sam A’raj said. The dumpsters are not cleaned enough to have a safe neighborhood. A cleaning machine was brought to the camp by the UNRWA to help solve the dumpsters’ issues. Also, cleaning workers were hired to clean the streets and dumpster around the camp. However, Sam stated that “the cleaning machine was not helpful enough because it couldn’t handle cleaning behind 80,000 people once a weak”, not only that, but the machine did not serve for every dumpster in the camp. For that, Sam elaborated on one way used to clean the camp from the garbage as the “refugees had to clean on their own and use their private cars to move and throw the collected waste on a mountain nearby his house and burn it” as a way of clearing the camp from waste products. Another refugee living in Ras Khamis spoke about garbage issues around his house that “the garbage in the streets are blocking the ways, and the dumpster cleanup cars by the UNRWA don’t access Ras Khamis area to removal the garbage” said Tarek Abu Sneneh.

The infrastructure in the camp was built during 1980’s. The water supplies and power supplies had not been improved or developed in the camp ever since. The residents in the camp have poor power and water services because Israel bans any development, improvement or repair on any of the old supplies in the camp. Israel denying the refugees from infrastructure improvements, and the UNRWA neglecting them with sanitary services, causes essential reasons for the frequent sewage overflow occurring around residents’ homes. As Tarek stated about the winter flood in Ras Khamis, “during winter time the underground sewage canal is left open which causes flood to sink the streets around our houses and in Ras Khamis”. For these reasons, the refugees in the camp are subjected to sanitary health issues and fatal deaths caused by the lack of sanitary provisions. Providing sanitation services such as sewage system and waterwaste canals for the camp promotes better health for the refugees, and a clean sustainable urban area with decontaminated environment for living.

The high growth rate of the population is another factor for the water exploitation. Sewage treatment is not being considered, the infrastructure underground became tarnished and does not function as it used to thirty years ago. This issue causes uncanny repercussions on the camp’s residents. The water is being exploited and water supplies and drains are unfit to handle the pressure of the water. The water supplies are old enough to both contaminate the water with the rusty supplies, and slow-move the running water. Israel is careful about having a main water line connected to Pisgat Ze’ev settlement. This water line is used by the refugees in the camp to receive water at least once a day. Sam lives in Alhara Altahta which could be considered as one of the most drained areas located in the middle of the camp, because the infrastructure is old and the house is near the mountain that is used for garbage disposal. Sam had described the water issue at his house as “weak and polluted. The water has a weird taste and smell” because he has no improved water supplies for clean water conveyance. For better water passage and reception of water “almost every house in the camp has a water engine to strengthen the water conveyance throughout the day” Sam said. Fearing water scarcity conditions would turn to no water all. 

As a result of the disregard by the Water Company Hagihon and UNRWA who are obligated with the responsibility to support and aid the camp with its required means, the camp as a geographic area is lacking attention for sanitary services. This neglect caused huge compact of waste products and garbage to be thrown on the streets and left to pile up. The camp lacks municipal services that include food availability, clean water supplies for healthy use, and street services such as sidewalks, lights for the public safety in the streets of the camp, garbage disposal and health insurance. The Palestinian refugees are constantly under a rainfall of depravations of necessary means. Their lifestyle becomes jeopardized as they stay in the camp. With the dreadful life form the Palestinian refugees are living in, they are unable to change their homes to better suitable conditions, because the homes outside Shuafat camp are unreasonably priced. And with the low financial status they have, the chances of leaving are unfit.

The coordinator of the popular committee in the camp Abdullah A’lqam stated about the water scarcity dealt with as “the entire camp gets very minimal water access where water is available to them only twice a day”. Irresponsibility and neglect by the government, Jerusalem Municipality and UNRWA have caused a miserable everyday life that consists of harsh living conditions, “economical, social and political dilemmas that are imposed on the refugees” Abdullah said, to handle in the camp. On a large scale, the agencies and the United Nations care to decrease the water scarcity and provide adequate clean water for the people. However, the agencies mentioned above have the legal responsibility to provide and grant the needs that the people await to have for better life standards. On the other hand, the municipality neglects a major part of its responsibility and achieves its role “only when its own profit is being gained from taxes, insurance, home demolishing and other similar profits” as Abdullah A’lqam clarified. As for the UNRWA its role in providing safe circumstances in streets and homes is not very responsive; dumpster vehicles cleaning the camp once a day after leaving the camp without sanitation services for months, is indisputably insufficient to establish a sanitary and healthy environment for the Palestinian refugees in the camp.

The role of the UNRWA in Shuafat refugee camp is essential. However, the services provided for Shuafat camp and its refugees are either neglected or not fulfilled. These services are required for decent living conditions that allow the refugees to live a fit and healthy lifestyle. During 1965 the responsibilities were fully achieved towards the refugees in the camp. The refugees had adequate amount of clean running water for and all kinds of daily use, UNRWA also provided preserved food cans for daily use and storage for every home in the camp, attempting to avoid food shortage and starvation. Former Mayer Aljoulany spoke about how organized and satisfied the camp was when the UNRWA took responsibility to provide for the camp. The refugees were provided with “homeland phones, street lights were set around the camp to break the dark and preempt unsafe condition such as accidents” said the Mayer, and there we no social conflicts between the refugees.  Every service was absolutely provided by the UNRWA with concern to all homes in the camp. Services were an equal opportunity to maintain safe conditions of everyday life in the camp.

After the 80’s period, the responsibility of UNRWA started to reduce as the population rate emerged. The number of population exceeded to a level where the responsibility became a troubling factor in the camp. The increase of number caused the UNRWA to minimize its duty towards the refugees in the camp, because it is unable to support the refugees with order and municipal services due to the insufficient funds they receive. This raises more conflicts in the camp as it breaks the order and safe zones they had before. There is no government to handle the situations of social and political conflicts and municipal service. For that, the situation in the camp became a place of chaos. There are no funds to support 80,000 people, no municipal services of goods and health care, infrastructure, and no police control to overcome any illegal act as murder and theft.


Written by: Jude Ledawieh and Hayel Barakat