Syria: The Turkish Occupation’s Deprivation of Water
Since 2019, authorities in Türkiye and Türkiye-controlled militias have deprived the affected population in Syria’s al-Hasaka Province from equitable, sustainable and safe access to, use of, and control over their water resources due to the repeated disruptions of the Alouk water pumping station, the primary source of water in the region. Türkiye, acting as an occupying power in parts of northeast Syria, partly as a bargaining chip to leverage negotiations with the Kurdish-led Autonomous Administration.
During Syria’s driest summers in history, the Turkish-backed Syrian National Army (SNA) has also blocked the Khabur River’s water flow. This, combined with the Alouk Station shutdown, has had grave consequences for the over 600,000 persons downstream, deliberately stopping the flow of water essential for household and agricultural use. Meanwhile, Syria and Iraq both have suffered from the limited flow into the Euphrates, due to the upstream Turkish dams built since the 1990.
The Alouk Station is a primary source of water for roughly 200,000 ethnically diverse residents of the City of al-Hasaka, in addition to the town of Tall Tamr and suburbs, including the IDP camps of al-Hawl, Arisha/al-Sad and Washu Kani/al-Twaina. Those camps accommodate tens of thousands of internally displaced persons from various parts of Syria, in addition to thousands of Iraqis and third-country nationals.
Alouk water pumping station, located near the village of Alouk Sharqi, was established in 2010 as a solution to the then water crisis in the city of al-Hasaka and environs, in the Jazira Region of the Autonomous Administrations of northern and eastern Syria. The al-Hasaka Governorate, with a 2023-estimated population of 422,445, lies on the border with Türkiye.
With Turkish forces continuously present, Türkiye and its affiliated Syrian armed groups have had effective control over the territory since 2016, after Türkiye’s first military operation (“Euphrates Shield”). Since the Turkish-led military offensive “Operation Peace Spring,” in October 2019, those Türkiye-affiliated militias groups took control of the Alouk Water Station.
Economic and physical hardship
Coinciding with the spread of the COVID-19, the repeated interruptions of water put children and families at risk during efforts to curb the virus by preventing handwashing with soap, a critical factor in the fight against the pandemic.
The Syrian Health Ministry declared a cholera outbreak in September 2022, which has been described by the UN Humanitarian Relief Coordinator as a “serious threat” to the Syrian people and the entire Middle East region. In addition to the threat posed by COVID-19 and water-borne diseases, the water shortage in Syria also has severe consequences for the population`s overall health and well-being. Access to clean water is essential for basic hygiene and sanitation.
In August 2023, HIC-HLRN, in collaboration with Monitoring and Documentation Department at North Press, submitted appeal to the ten addressed Special Procedures, requesting intervention on behalf of the population in northern Syria whose water sources have been withheld and/or cut by actors in their territory.
Download the full text of the appeal to UN Special Procedures here.