Heat hits refugees hard as summer weather adds to suffering

Tough climactic conditions add to refugees' woes including those already weakened by cuts to food aid

Heat waves and sandstorms are making a tough summer season harder for some of the region’s most vulnerable people, including refugees in Jordan already weakened by cuts to food aid.

“It’s extremely hot, and as severe dust storms swept through Zaatari [refugee] camp Monday, the weather is impacting families,” explained Dina Elkassaby, spokesperson for the UN’s World Food Programme (WFP). “The WFP has had to reduce funding [to refugees] and the impact is that many people are skipping meals and that is going to affect resilience and health. Given the heat wave people need more energy and I’m sure as they are living without access to air conditioning they are feeling the impact very severely.”

The tough climactic conditions add to the refugees' woes. The UN’s food agency has been forced to halve August’s food assistance to refugees living outside camps in Jordan due to lack of funds. The most vulnerable refugees will receive $14 per person – half the entitlement they originally received - while the remaining refugees will receive $7 each, said the agency. Refugees living in Jordan’s camps will continue to receive the full $28 each per month. Only a last minute $65m donation from the US avoided a full forced shutdown of the programme.

“Even though this is a large contribution, the sad truth is that it will only last a couple of months,” said Muhannad Hadi, WFP regional director for the Middle East, North Africa, Central Asia and Eastern Europe, in a statement. “Unless other donors step up to the plate, it will be only a matter of months before we face the same situation again.”

Some 81,000 refugees live in Zaatari camp, which has grown exponentially since it opened in 2012, according to the UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR.

Sustained heat is expected to place increased pressure on water resources in the camp, where water has to be trucked in. Children’s agency UNICEF launched a construction project to build a water network in the camp back in April. The network is being designed by Oxfam but the first phase – where water will be moved from bore holes to tanks in each camp district – is not expected to be operational until September.

Elsewhere in the region temperatures in Iraq have regularly topped 50 degrees centigrade forcing the government to declare a four-day weekend as the country’s infrastructure, battered by decades of conflict, fails. In Pakistan, June’s severe heat wave lead to a death toll in excess of 1,250.

Photo credit: Wikimedia/ Mustafa Bader