Raqqa’s agricultural committee warns of disaster if Turkey continues seizing Euphrates water

This report by Ahmed Al-Hassan was published by North Press Agency on 19 May, 2021

A local official in the Autonomous Administration in Raqqa, northern Syria, warned that the low water level in the Euphrates River heralds a disaster that may affect the agricultural and livestock sectors in the region.

Sheikh Nabi Khalil, head of the operations department in the irrigation office of the Agriculture Committee of the Raqqa Civil Council, said that the water supply from Turkey is still declining, which necessitates the irrigation office to take emergency measures to avoid the great shortage and invest in available resources to get out of this crisis with minimal losses.

The Turkish seizure of the Euphrates water has caused living problems, the most prominent of which is the shortage of drinking water, power outages, and impacts on cultivation and the environment. 

The water flow of the Euphrates River into Syria continues to decrease, having dropped to 181 m³ per second, Muhammad Tarboush, an official of the General Management of the Dams in northeast Syria, said on Tuesday.

Among the measures taken by the Irrigation Office in Raqqa is the cessation of water pumping to the irrigation canal in al-Balikh for a period of 15 days, only pumping quantities sufficient to operate drinking water pumps and irrigate vegetables only, and this amount is estimated at 30 m³ per second.

The capacity of the al-Balikh irrigation canal is 90 m³, to irrigate agricultural lands with an area of 100,000 hectares from Tabqa in the west to al-Buhumaid Island in the western countryside of Deir ez-Zor, according to the Agricultural Irrigation Office in Raqqa.

The Irrigation Office also issued a circular to reduce the areas licensed for summer planting during this season from 30% to 15%, and farmers were also directed to plant crops that do not need large quantities of water, such as gypsum seed, sesame, and others.

Khalil pointed out that the level of Tabqa Lake decreased from 14 billion m³, which is the strategic reserve of the lake, to 10,000,900,000 m³ during that period.

These days, the reservoir of the lake is decreasing by five centimeters on a daily basis.

“Turkey’s policy of cutting off the Euphrates water is another kind of war aimed at starving the population in the areas that benefit from the Euphrates and is no less dangerous than the usual war,” Khalil said.

For more than three months, Turkey has limited the flow of the Euphrates into Syria, depriving large numbers of people of usable water. Turkey reduced the flow of water from the Euphrates River into northeast Syria’s dam gradually, reducing the amount of water received to unprecedented lows.

Turkey keeps water in six dams, the largest of which is Ataturk Dam, the second largest in the Middle East, with a storage capacity of 48 billion m³, violating the international agreement they signed with Syria in 1987 which stated that Syria’s share of water coming from Turkey is 500 m³ per second.

The water flow to the Euphrates River is now limited to less than 200 cubic meters per second, according to the General Administration of Dams in Northeastern Syria.

Khalil added that the amount of water received from the Turkey has become less than 200 m³ per second, as it consumes 85 m³ of it for irrigation.

The areas of the eastern countryside of Aleppo extract about 35 m³, and drinking water stations consume about seven m³ per second, in addition to the evaporation of about 30 m³ due to the high temperatures, according to Khalil.

Khalil appealed to the international community to put pressure on Turkey to release Syria’s share of the Euphrates water, because the current water situation in Syria portends an imminent disaster that will affect the population, agriculture and livestock if a quick solution is not reached before summer arrives.