Syrians in the Zayzoun IDP Camp, located in the western countryside of Daraa, and Quneitra countryside are taking a page from the history books to deal with the challenges at hand.
War-time conditions have pushed many Syrians to embrace tried-and-true methods for heating and shelter, camp official Abu Mohammed, who oversees statistics at the camp, told the Syrian Voice.
A recent example of this revivalist phenomenon is the construction of clay homes in Zayzoun and the Quneitra countryside, both under opposition-control.
“Over the past three months, some families have resorted to building houses out of clay and straw, with a roof of canvas or some other [material],” said Abu Mohammed.
A sense of stability through ‘modest means’
By 2014, an estimated 6.5 million Syrians had been displaced by the conflict according to a report by the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center (IDMC).
Though most have sought shelter with relatives, 173,000 displaced Syrians have found themselves in ad-hoc camps throughout the country, the report details.
One example, the Zayzoun displaced persons Camp, benefits from preexisting buildings and infrastructure as it is located on the site of a former Ba’athist Vanguard youth camp.
With the number of displaced residents multiplying recently the camp has expanded, housing new arrivals in tents around the former Ba’athist compound.
“I fled to the Zayzoun Camp two years ago with my family to escape the shelling,” Abu Abdou, a camp resident, told a Syrian Voice correspondent in Daraa.
“We couldn’t get one of the rooms, so we had a shabby tent. It wasn’t enough to last us for two years,” he explained.
The Zayzoun Camp currently houses 534 families (approximately 3,350 people), Abu Mohammed told the Syrian Voice. Most have fled the countryside of Daraa, Damascus, and Quneitra; however, some families have traveled from provinces as far as Homs or Idlib.
With resources sparse and winter approaching, residents of Zayzoun and the Quneitra countryside are turning to clay homes for shelter.
These simply-constructed homes provide a welcome alternative to the tents used by many camp residents.
Though the United Nations and other relief organizations have delivered assistance to camps such as Zayzoun, the provided tents have fallen into serious disrepair.
“A tent doesn’t keep out the summer heat or the winter cold,” Abu Abdou explained to the Syrian Voice.
“We are using modest means, but maybe [the clay houses] will be kinder to us than the tents,” he added.
Abu Ahmed, a resident in the Quneitra countryside whose tents collapsed due to snowfall last year, detailed the building process to a Syrian Voice correspondent.
“We begin by soaking clay and straw in water, then we put it in pre-prepared molds,” he explained.
“We polish the outside with water and let it sun-dry. After that, we begin to stack these cubes to form bedrooms, a kitchen, and a bathroom. We top them off with a roof made of tin plates, plastic, or canvas from the tents.”
The rising cost of building materials also comes into play, a displaced resident in Quneitra told the Syrian Voice on the condition of anonymity.
“They’re [clay and straw], the cheapest materials, because they’re widely available. It’s an alternative to cement and traditional building materials, as prices have risen.”
Abu Mohammed did discuss some of the disadvantages of this housing with a Syrian voice correspondent such as lack of light and attracting insects.
“It is still preferable to the run-down tents,” he stressed.
The search for sturdier housing alternatives comes in light of prolonged displacement crisis in Syria.
With few indicators that displaced resident will be able to return home soon, camp residents look to these simple, effective shelters for some sense of stability.