By: Nour Al-Ahmed – Al-Hasakah
Om Ali has never become desperate in attempting to open the main water faucet of her house located in Al-Hasakah City wishing that she might find it dripping even with a few drops of drinking water to quench her and her family’s thirst and then later to take a cold bath in this dry desert city.
Om Ali, like many of people of this city, hopes that water goes back running to her house after recurrent outages which have become until today and for a year an almost constant one. The main reason of this outage is its main resource in Alok well-water station located in Raas Alayn which has been under the control of Turkish forces and their affiliated factions since 2019.
This outage breached the water section included in the Protocol signed by Syria, Turkey, and Iraq in 1987, and it also violates the Policy and Analytical Briefs issued by the UN in 2015 which affirms “eliminating discrimination and inequalities in access to water and sanitation”.
The Syrian Government accuses Turkey with confiscating more than half of Syria’s share which should not be less than 500 cubic meters per second according to the protocol signed with Turkey in 1987. Now, only 200 cubic meters are being pumped.
According to the Allegation Letter submitted by several organizations to the Special Rapporteur on the human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation, the block of water lifeline from Al-Hasakah City by Turkish forces and their affiliated factions has started since early 2019. This was by blocking water from Alok station in Raas Alayn which has reached 36 outages by June 2023.
Om Ali and other residents of Al-Hasakah City seek alternative methods to secure water. Some of them dig an artesian well in front of their houses to bring water. However, the Agriculture and Irrigation Department of the Autonomous Administration of NES has issued a declaration banning well digging in November 2022 to preserve groundwater in these areas.
Ali Alsulaiman, one of the residents of Al-Aziziah Neighborhood in Al-Hasakah City, tells us in his conversation “well water assists us in washing, cleaning, and watering our plants, but it is not drinkable. It helps us to continue surviving a little in this dry life”. According to Ali, this helps people compensate for the constant water outage.
Ali buys drinking water once or twice a week as he believes that water brought by traders from Naffasha Village in east of Al-Hasakah City or from Alhumma resources is not 100% drinkable.
Experts expect that these resources from which water is sold for people in the city will dry out soon due to the high consumption, and it is another challenge for around 1 million people living in Al-Hasakah now.
Access to safe water and sanitation is an essential right and condition for living a decent life, according to the International Bill of Human Rights. However, and unfortunately, billions of people still do not own these basic rights and these include residents of Al-Hasakah City.
After the declaration of Al-Hasakah City a disaster area by the Autonomous Administration of NES last July, tribal campaigns, which are not affiliated with any official party, have emerged and are led by people of Deir ez-Zor and Raqqa to help the city residents with providing them drinking water tanks. Asaad Assaf, who is one of the leaders of what is called “Deir ez-Zor’s Fazaa”, said that the campaign came out as a result of Al-Hasakah City people call for help to provide them with water.
There are other several campaigns conducted by humanitarian organizations, which provided the city with water reservoirs, filled out on a semi-daily basis, in almost every street, but still this is not adequate for one house and thus people fight for it. This is negatively impacting the civil peace as well as the physical health condition of the people carrying the water load for a long distance to reach their homes.
The Autonomous Administration has tried to extract water from the Euphrates River, but the project was never completed. In early July 2023, the Administration revealed a new project for securing the city with water from the bordered-area of Amuda, but the project has not launched yet.
United Nations Human Rights, the Right to Water (International Environmental Law and Universal Declaration of Human Rights) provides the rights to access safe drinking water and sanitation. Also, Geneva Conventions of 1949 and their Additional Protocols of 1977 present the importance of accessing safe drinking water and sanitation as essential for health and survival during international and local armed conflicts.
The Co-president of the Autonomous Administration Department of Water, Eissa Yousef, says “there will be an imminent humanitarian crisis unless shortage of water in the city is resolved, and the reason behind not implementing water extraction projects from the Euphrates River is the decrease of water level, and we cannot, so far, find a way to secure 140 cubic meters of water on a daily-basis, which is the need of the city”.
Yousef hopes that Amuda project to supply Al-Hasakah with water will be successful and able to cover a little of the water shortage. Also, they are striving to complete the project as soon as possible. Yousef anticipates indicators for a soon breakthrough of Alok station problem after international interventions to neutralize water crisis. However, if it is implemented, it will be after completing maintenance of the remaining 18 wells out of 33 in Alhumma Station.
The water crisis in Al-Hasakah City is not only limited to people’s thirst, damage of farms, and deterioration of livestock, but also this long-term outage has caused several diseases including cholera and acute intestinal infection, particularly for children.
The New Medical Center confirmed receiving cases on a daily basis, and according to doctors, the reason is people’s consumption of water coming from unknown resources for drinking, or children’s drinking water from any random faucet they might find because of their thirst.
The General Comment no. 15 of the United Nations, which is concerned with The International Convention on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, states that the right to water is essential for securing an adequate standard of living, and it is in conjunction with other rights like health, life, and human dignity.
The Committee presented detailed instructions for the countries about respecting, protecting, and meeting the criteria of the Right to Water. It stated that each individual has the Right to Water in necessary quantities that fulfill their basic needs.
The minimum level of required water differs according to the context (including health situation, climate, and work conditions), but it usually includes personal and household consumption for drinkable water, sanitation, laundry, food preparation, and personal and household hygiene. Despite the need for different quantities, this matter should not be underestimated.
Also, 110 Syrian organizations have called for, under a statement, taking necessary measures to find a sustainable solution to the water crisis in NES.
Water was pumped once to Al-Hasakah City recently after months of outage with the intervention of UNICEF and Damascus Government. However, and according to local residents, they wish for sustainability of water pumping. They request from all those concerned including de facto powers and humanitarian organizations to find a solution as soon as possible to save them from this long-term crisis.
 Fazaa is a Bedouin, tribal term used to express emergency or urgent support or assistance provided by other people/tribes.