Urgent plea from 110 organizations calls for international intervention as water crisis in Syria deepens

NORTH AND EAST SYRIA — In a joint statement, 110 Syrian organizations condemned the worsening water crisis in North and East Syria and called for urgent international intervention. These organizations have raised a collective voice to address a humanitarian crisis that has left over four million people, including approximately one million Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs), struggling to access clean and sufficient water resources.

North and East Syria is grappling with the most severe drought in nearly seven decades, a crisis driven primarily by climate change, reduced rainfall, and rising temperatures. The main challenge in resolving this crisis lies in the fact that Syria’s water resources have become a pawn in the ongoing conflict. Rather than being managed under a unified system, control over water resources is heavily influenced by the policies of various parties involved. The Turkish government and its Syrian National Army (SNA) proxies have been accused of deliberately depriving civilians in North and East Syria of their right to water. Simultaneously, the Syrian government has targeted and disrupted water stations supplying large areas in northwest Syria.

The ramifications of the deepening water crisis in North and East Syria are far-reaching. It has become a significant driver of food insecurity, the erosion of livelihoods, and a catalyst for mass emigration. The scarcity of water and its deteriorating quality, coupled with poor sanitation and inadequate hygiene, particularly in IDP camps, have led to the spread of serious diseases.

A series of events have contributed to the current dire situation, including recurring disruptions in the supply of drinking water from the Alouk Pumping Station, which serves as the primary source of drinking water for over a million people in North and East Syria’s Hasakah Canton. This critical water source also serves numerous IDP camps housing tens of thousands of Syrians and foreign nationals, according to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).

Another key factor contributing to the crisis is Turkey’s illegal restrictions on water flow into the Syrian part of the Euphrates River, well below the agreed-upon levels stipulated in the 1987 Agreement between Turkey and Syria.

The signatory organizations are calling for the following to address the crisis:

  • Create an impartial and independent monitoring body for the Euphrates River and shared transboundary water resources in Syria, Turkey, and Iraq. This body will ensure compliance with international agreements and laws while facilitating dialogues among stakeholders for equitable water use.
  • Urge the Turkish government and other conflict parties to respect human rights by providing access to clean water for all Syrians and eliminating political interference in water resources.
  • Strengthen the monitoring and oversight of water-related rights violations. The Human Rights Council and the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria should systematically include water-access violations in their reports and advocate for justice for affected individuals.
  • The United Nations should devise a strategy for addressing transboundary water challenges in the region. This strategy must prioritize ensuring access to safe water for civilians in Northeast Syria and address conflicts affecting surface water, groundwater, soils, and vegetation cover.
  • Establish platforms for inclusive participation in water resource management. These platforms should engage key stakeholders, including local communities and civil society organizations, in consultations and policymaking related to water resources. Transparency in reporting on water resource management issues should also be increased.
  • Prioritize the conservation of existing water resources, prevent their depletion, and rehabilitate their infrastructure. Initiatives for cleaning up and treating contaminated water resources and rivers should be initiated to ensure long-term water security.