Domestic accidents are claiming the lives of more and more children in Jordan’s poor and overcrowded neighbourhoods. For the Kingdom’s Civil Defence Department, providing children with a safe environment is a top priority and education is the key, under a project financed by the EU programme on Prevention, Preparedness and Response to Natural and Man-made Disasters (PPRD South). By: Mohammad Ben Hussein
Amman - Situated in a politically unstable region, battling water scarcity and an unsure peace process to the west, officials say that Jordan is facing every day another dangerous threat: deadly domestic accidents.
Sameera, who lives in the Sweileh neighbourhood in northwest Amman, lost her seven-year-old son after leaving him unsupervised near the stove. “I put the food on the stove and went to hang wet clothes and left my son to watch the food to make sure it didn’t burn. The next thing I heard was my son’s screams, with fire all over his body,” said the 23-year-old mother.
“I should not have left him alone,” she admitted. Leaving children on their own is a common practice in Sameera’s neighbourhood, and many other areas in Jordan where high birth rates and crowded conditions can be a deadly mix.
In the Baqaa refugee camp, children play near makeshift fires they arrange to cook tea. Twelve-year-old Ahmed says his parents never tell him what he should avoid while playing. “I spend most of my day playing with friends. I have six brothers and my mother is often busy with the house and my younger brothers,” he said.
Education is key
According to the Jordanian Civil Defence Department, education is key to halting the rising number of child victims of such accidents.
Waleed Al-Soub, Director of the Disaster Department in the Jordanian Civil Defence, said the major issue was lack of awareness of household risks, particularly in areas of poverty and high unemployment. Al-Soub said a €5 million EU-funded programme on Prevention, Preparedness and Response to Natural and Man-made Disasters (PPRD South) was key to raising awareness on the hazards women face in the home and how to prevent accidents.
The programme, which aims to improve the civil protection capacities of Mediterranean partner countries, contributes to the development of a civil protection culture based on risk mitigation and prevention, rather than purely response. Under the initiative, each partner country identifies its priorities. For Jordan, providing children with a safe environment was the top concern, according to Soub. “The Civil Defence Department will soon start distributing booklets across the Kingdom to alert housewives to fundamental principles that can help protect their children and to prevent hazards in the daily environment including electricity, gas leaks and fires,” he said.
The project, which is financed within the PPRD South with a budget of €40,000, is one of five regional initiatives carried out in Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt, the occupied Palestinian territory as well as Montenegro. “Jordan’s population has increased sharply and the programmes we have are for households. We want to tackle bad practices, such as housewives and caretakers unable to deal with gas cylinders or electronic appliances,” said Al-Soub.
The Civil Defence Department is also trying to reach mothers directly, Al-Soub said, adding that they would organise seminars across the country for hundreds of women of all backgrounds. “Experts will explain to women how to do safe housekeeping and what the best practices are.” Meanwhile, nearly 1,000 children will be targeted through booklets explaining everyday risks, and experts will hold child safety-themed competitions. “Children like to play, so we will give awards to those who give the best answers to encourage the learning process,” Al- Soub said.
Focus on prevention
PRRD South officials highlighted the importance of such programmes to help partner countries mitigate risks by building the capacities of civil defence staff to provide better services for communities. Milojka Saule, Euromed PPRD South communications expert, noted that Jordan is implementing for the first time a project that focuses not only on response, but on prevention and preparedness, which means educating people on the risks they encounter in their daily lives, and how to act when a natural disaster such as a flood or earthquake happens. “In order for people to be informed, you need an awareness campaign, and this is what the PPRD South is trying to do,” she said.For Sameera, although her own son is gone, it is not too late to save the lives of thousands of other children through such badly-needed awareness programmes. “I still have my four sons as well as nephews and niece who remain vulnerable. We need to protect them from themselves and the world,” she said.
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