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Turkish-backed Syrian group cuts off water to Hasakah

Hasakah residents in northeast Syria have relied on buying water from private suppliers as their underground wells have dried up, while the Turkish-backed factions suspended pumping operations from the only water station supplying the city.
A girl walks while holding water containers in her hands and mouth at the Washukanni camp for the internally displaced near the town of Tuwaynah, near the city of Hasakah, Syria, Oct. 8, 2020.

ALEPPO, Syria — Potable water has become a scarce commodity in Syria’s northeastern city of Hasakah, which is under the control of the Kurdish-led Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria, due to the declining groundwater levels and depletion of many water wells, caused by drought and lack of rain over the past years.

Water supplies to the neighborhoods of the city also stopped as water pumping operations were halted as a result of the repeated and prolonged water cuts

The water pumping stations that supply northeast Syria rely on the Allouk water station, located in Ras al-Ain, which is under the control of the Turkish-backed Free Syrian Army (FSA). The latter are often accused of cutting off water supplies to the cities and towns in the area.

Since early September, the water well that Ahmed Atieh dug two years ago near his home in the Ghweran neighborhood of Hasakah city has dried up. 

Speaking to Al-Monitor, Atieh said he will not take the risk of digging another well as almost all underground wells in the city’s neighborhoods have dried up. He will instead buy water from private cisterns.

He noted that the lack of rain and drought over the past two years were the main reason behind the significant depletion of a large number of water wells in Hasakah city, in addition to random drilling and lack of spacing between wells, which sometimes does not exceed 2 meters (6.5 feet).

The residents of Hasakah city’s neighborhoods have had to rely since early September — after the underground wells that they dug to secure drinking water dried up — on tanks provided by nongovernmental organizations. Others have purchased water from private cisterns. 

Ismael Najjar, resident of Kallaseh neighborhood in Hasakah city, told Al-Monitor, “Buying water from private tankers has alleviated our suffering, despite the lack of water quality supervision. It costs me 100,000 Syrian pounds per month [$25] to fill the tanks at home with drinking water.”

The Turkish-backed FSA factions took control of the cities of Tal Abyad in Raqqa countryside and Ras al-Ain in Hasakah countryside in October 2019 as part of the Turkish military offensive against Kurdish forces dubbed Operation Peace Spring.

The Allouk water station lies in the area that the Turkish-backed factions seized back then. At the time, Ankara and the Autonomous Administration reached an agreement under Russia’s umbrella to maintain the water supply to Hasakah province, provided that the station would be supplied with electricity from the Kurdish-held areas.

The agreement was not properly implemented, and water pumping from the station was repeatedly halted. The water crisis in northeast Syria has further escalated recently, as the FSA has been suspending pumping operations from the Allouk station for over two months now. 

An official at the Autonomous Administration’s Water Directorate in Hasakah told Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity, “Hasakah city has been suffering from water supply cuts for nearly three months after the FSA cut off water at the Allouk station, which is the only source of water supply to the city in light of the drought and declining groundwater levels.”

The official pointed to “the Autonomous Administration’s inability to find alternatives, which will lead to environmental and humanitarian disasters in Hasakah city.” 

The Allouk water station includes 30 artesian wells, according to Syria’s state news agency. 

As the crisis lingers, the water shortage in Hasakah will increase the suffering of the people and will likely accelerate the spread of cholera if real steps are not taken to secure clean water supplies to the city.

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