Water Crisis Continues in Northeast Syria Despite Partially Restored Flow

This report by Wladimir van Wilgenburg was published by Kurdistan24 on 6 July, 2020. Kurdistan 24 correspondent Akram Salih contributed to this report. Editing by Laurie Mylroie.

The Tabqa dam provides most of the electricity to the northeast (Photo: Kurdistan 24).

Turkey has reduced the flow of water from the Euphrates River into northeast Syria, while its proxies have cut the flow of water from the Allouk water station, depriving hundreds of thousands of people of access to clean water. In addition, the reduced water flow has caused electricity shortages in a region dependent on electricity generated by the Tabqa dam.

The Allouk water station is located near the border town of Serekaniye, over which Turkey and its proxy militias took control in October 2019, during the so-called “Peace Spring Operation.”

“Turkey’s manipulation of the water flow into North and East Syria is twofold,” Thomas McClure, a Syria-based researcher at the Rojava Information Center, told Kurdistan 24.

“On the one hand it regularly cuts the flow from the Allouk station, depriving hundreds of thousands of access to clean drinking water. On the other hand, Turkey has been severely reducing the flow from the Euphrates River, compared to the equivalent months in previous years,” he said.

“The Euphrates is crucial for local farmers to irrigate their crops and keep land viable, as the region struggles for food autonomy in the face of a worsening financial crisis. Major hydroelectric dams on the river also provide clean energy to most of the northeast, but even in the best of times, the region faces frequent blackouts.,” McClure continued.

“With the flow so low, electricity delivery has been cut still further, and authorities at the dam warn that power may be cut out altogether. This leaves locals reliant on expensive, polluting generators that run on crude diesel to meet the gap,” he explained.

In the Kurdish town of Amude, even electricity generators in the neighborhoods of Salim Seyed School and Heyva Sor (Red Crescent) have not been working for the past 15 days, while electricity from the city is available only for a very limited time. Therefore, locals have asked the Autonomous Administration of the North and East of Syria (AANES) to increase the electricity supply.

“How long will this continue? Is this how we should live?,” Bashira Ali, a woman from Amude complained to Kurdistan 24. “Last night we did not know where to go in the heat and dust. They [family members] went to the electricity generator, and he [the generator owner] said that he would not turn on the electricity, no matter how long we insisted. Why?”

“It is a terrible situation. There is no cold water, and we are in the streets until noon,” Fatima Hassan, another woman in Amude explained. “There are children, elderly, and patients. It is impossible to continue like this. A solution must be found.”

Ahin Swed, co-chair of the energy board of Jazira canton, told Kurdistan 24 that since mid-March of this year, Turkey has been reducing the supply of water from the Euphrates, negatively affecting power generation.

“We had to make new adjustments,” Swed explained. “The last instruction is that now we are only able to generate 12 hours of 80 megawatt electricity per day for the Jazira Region from 8 PM to 8 AM.”

“According to the last schedule, the first four hours are for the areas in the countryside, and the remaining eight hours for the city centers,” he said.

In addition, armed, Turkish-backed groups control the main source of drinking water in Hasakah province. They have regularly cut the water flows from the Allouk water station to Hasakah province, demanding more electricity from the Mabrouka power plant, which is controlled by the local Kurdish-led administration, in exchange for that water that they control.

Last Friday, Sozdar Ahmed, co-chair of the Water Directorate of the Autonomous Administration, explained to Kurdistan 24 that although the pumping station is still working, “it supplies only 30% of its water capacity. Sometimes there are power shortages, and then there is no water at all.”

Indeed, the pro-regime Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) reported that on Sunday the water was cut completely by the Turkish-backed groups.

According to a recent analysis  from The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, written by Syria expert Fabrice Balanche, Turkey is deliberately using water as a weapon against the AANES “reducing the flow of the Euphrates and tapping into groundwater around the border, thereby reducing the amounts available downstream.”

“Voluntary cuts are increasing, despite Russian mediation, and it is very difficult to find new sources of water for Hasaka’s large population, which has swelled to 450,000, after new refugees arrived from Tal Abyad and Ras al-Ain [Serekaniye],” Balanche explained.