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The dry basin rim of Tabqa Dam shows how much the water level of Lake Assad has dropped


The September sun is setting over the old olive grove as Ahmad Mahmoud Alahri walks pensively from tree to tree. 

The 52-year-old takes a piece from dry, dead wood and places it on the ground. “My brother, and I once planted 8,000 tree here. He recalls that there were grape vines and lemon trees as well as olive trees. “When the…” ‘Islamic State (IS)’ cut off our water to make us compliant, and then 3,000 of our trees died, we thought: ‘it can’t get any worse’.” Alahri says that this year, another 3000 trees died from lack of water. water.” 

This is despite Ayid Sghir, the village of 1,000 people where Alahri resides, being located only 3 kilometers (1.8 mi) from the Tabqa Dam, on the Euphrates. Syria’sLargest river. The Assad reservoir can be seen in the distance from Alahri’s Olive grove.

The dry basin rim of Tabqa Dam shows how much the water level of Lake Assad has dropped

The Tabqa Dam’s dry basin rim shows how low the water level in Lake Assad.

Six meters has been lost in the reservoir’s water level since 2020. The Euphrates is so low, that the pumps meant to supply the nearby villages and fields cannot reach the river water. About a third of the approximately 200 pumps along the Euphrates were affected by low water levels in 2021 and more than 5 million people in the region lack adequate access to water, according to UN data.  

What is causing the water crisis?

Globally,the Middle East is among the regions worst affected by the climate crisis. The rainy season ended in Syria two months late in the winter 2020-2021 and two months earlier than normal. according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). The FAO also found that extreme heat in April had affected many areas’ harvest. This summer, the country was at its worst droughtAccording to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, this will happen in 70 years. The UN agency expects losses of at least 75% of field crops and up to 25% of irrigated crops throughout northeastern Syria.  

The Euphrates, which are waterways that flow into Syria from Turkey, has caused the situation to worsen.

“The insufficient water flow from the Euphrates has an immediate impact on the daily life of millions of people.” Representative of UNICEF Syria, Bo Viktor Nylund stated that water is scarce in at least three districts in Syria. “We urgently need to have a conversation at regional level to find a resolution as soon as possible.”  

A man looks out over a severely shrunken lake, his arms folded behind his head

The West Lake, once a major reservoir in northern Syria’s Hasakah area, has been severely damaged by extreme drought.

The Euphrates runs through Turkey, Syria, and Iraq. The Ataturk Dam dams the Euphrates on the Turkish side. After the dam was completed in 1987, Turkey pledged to allow an annual average of more than 500 cubic meters per second of Euphrates water to pass through to Syria. It dropped to 215 cubic metres per second this summer. 

Turkey and Syria’s water supply    

Farmer Ahmad Mahmoud Alahri sees Turkey as primarily responsible for the situation. “Turkey wants the country to dry out, there’s no difference to IS,” he stated. For almost three years, the so-called Islamic State held sway in the village of Ayid Saghir, before the Kurdish-led fighting alliance Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) drove them out of the region in 2017. 

Since then, the region has been considered the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (AANES) under the leadership of the Kurdish PYD party. Turkey accuses PYD as being the Syrian arm for the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) which it fights as a terrorist organisation. 

A motorcycle rides through an empty riverbed of the Khabour in the outskirts of the northern Syrian town of al- Hasakah

This riverbed was once used as a track for motorcycles. The Khabour is now dry but was once the largest Euphrates River tributary.

Many people in Ayid Sadir believe that Turkey deliberately withholds water, just like Alahri. But that cannot be proven, said UN representative Nylund: “We see that the water has decreased a lot, but we need to analyze further why the water levels are so low.” DW asked several questions about the subject and received no response from the Turkish Foreign Ministry. 

Energy and health impacts

Water scarcity is a serious problem for more than just agriculture. According to UNICEFPoor water quality can lead significantly to water shortages. more cases diseasesChildren are particularly susceptible to diarrhea. Low water levelsThe power supply is also at risk. Three hydroelectric power plants on three rivers, the Euphrates and Euphrates, provide electricity for approximately 3 million people living in northeastern Syria. 

The Hasaka region has a worse water crisis. It is located 200 km (124 mi) east of Ayid Sadir. In the past, Hasakah was called the “breadbasket” of Syria. It once produced half of the country’s grain. Today, the reservoirs to the north of al-Hasakah, the regional capital, have shrunk into large puddles where young men can catch fish with only their bare hands. 

A woman leans against a wall, with the cityscape of al-Hasakah, northern Syria, in the background

Majde Emin has been al-Hasakah’s deputy mayor since the start of the year

The city’s river Khabur, which is supposed supply drinking water, has dried up because of the lack rain. Al-Hasakah’s only source of water is the Alouk pumping station close to the Turkish border. But for the last two years the waterworks, which supply more than 460,000 people with drinking water, have only functioned intermittently.

Dispute over Alouk’s water plant 

“The situation has been particularly tense since Turkey occupied Sere Kaniye (known in Arabic as Ras al Ain) in 2019 and took control of Alouk,” said Majda Emin, deputy-mayor of the town of al-Hasakah.  

In October 2019, the Turkish army entered northern Syria and created a 30-kilometer “buffer zone” where the Alouk pumping station is located — ostensibly to prevent acts of terrorism. Although it is still operational, there have been nearly 90 days without water station operation and more than 140 days of it operating at half capacity. 

Ankara blams the AANES, which cut the station’s electricity supply. Alouk has been placed under neutral administration by the UN but attempts to do so have failed. Nylund stated that UNICEF does not have direct access to the waterworks. 

Mohammed Abdo (right), his wife Bahrya Ibrahim and her sister Berivan in front of the family home in Khashman, an eastern outskirt of the northern Syrian city of al-Hasakah

Mohammed Abdo feels left out by the international community during the water crisis.

Large water tanks are now used to supply drinking water to the residents of al-Hasakah. They are transported into the city via trucks. But the water is expensive: 1,000 liters cost around 6,000 lira, or about 2 euros ($2.25) — a lot of money in a region where the average salary is the equivalent of just €53 a month. 

Water becoming more expensive

“Our family depends on our son’s salary. He earns 250,000 lira (€88) a month as a driver in the military. And now we have to spend 60,000 lira (€21) on water every month — and the water is barely enough,” said Mohammed Abdo.

The 60-year old lives in the Khashman neighbourhood and has been chairman for several months of the local district council. Abdo says that many Khashman residents are in dire need because their fields are dry up. 

“We have been forgotten, no one helps us, no aid organization — no one,” he complains. Abdo is angry — at the municipality, at the international community, but most of all at Turkey. He said, “If they want fight, they should do so on the frontlines but not as a weapon.” “This is not the end of life. They are killing us — just slowly.”

Johanna Thompson translated the text from German 


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