Turkish-backed opposition and Kurdish-led Autonomous Administration disclaim their responsibility
Water crisis exhausts people of al-Hasakeh governorate
Enab Baladi – Saleh Malas
The water crisis in al-Hasakeh governorate has temporarily stabilized, after the Kurdish-led Autonomous Administration in northeast Syria allowed, on 22 August, the restoration of power to the city of Ras al-Ain in the northern countryside of al-Hasakeh, which has the main supply of water in the governorate which is controlled by the Turkish-backed opposition forces.
Social media platforms have seen numerous campaigns, carrying accusations against Turkey, in an attempt to exert pressure to bring back the water to the governorate, titled “Thirst suffocates al-Hasakeh.”
The 22-day water outage in al-Hasakeh was part of a series of continued disruption of potable water supplies to al-Hasakeh region of northeast Syria, by cutting off the supply of water from the “Alok” pumping station near the city of Ras al-Ain in the northern countryside of al-Hasakeh.
The Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA), a Syrian state-controlled news agency, reported that the “Alok” pumping station includes 30 artesian wells, which were invested in 2013. The station also feeds the city of al-Hasakeh and its western countryside with approximately 175 thousand cubic meters of potable water per day, which is the need of the city of al-Hasakeh, its suburbs, and the town of Tel Tamer and its villages.
Why was the water cut off?
The head of the “Economy and Agriculture Authority” in “the Kurdish-led Autonomous Administration” in northeastern Syria, Salman Barudo, told Enab Baladi, in an email, that the direct cause of the water outage is “a kind of pressure on the Autonomous Administration” and “thwarting its development projects in the region” by the Syrian opposition factions backed by Turkey.
Barudo based this accusation on a statement by 89 civil and human rights organizations that condemned Turkey and its local councils cutting off water from civilians for the eighth time in a row, and using water as a “blackmail card.”
The “Alok” station is considered the only source of drinking water for about 800,000 people residing in northeastern Syria, according to the organizations, which have warned of the impact of cutting water on efforts to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) in those areas.
An Autonomous Administration official described bringing water into political and military conflicts as a “war crime” punishable by international law.
International law protects specific categories of people and properties that are involved in regulating the pumping of drinking water to regions and cities, as they are indispensable elements to meet the basic needs of individuals’ survival.
However, the wells of “Alok” are fed from a select line from the power transmission station in al-Darbasiyah, northeast of al-Hasakeh (under the control of the Autonomous Administration). The 12 pumps need electricity to push water to al-Hasakeh, which blames “the Autonomous Administration” that periodically cuts power from Ras al-Ain.
In response to this accusation, Barudo said that the opposition factions that control Ras al-Ain are working to connect the power lines of the “Alok” station with their military points and some of the villages they control so that the standard amount that should reach the “Alok” station is tripled, as he put it.
For his part, Abdullah al-Jashaam, the director of the media office at Ras al-Ain local council, in an interview with Enab Baladi accused the forces of the Democratic Union Party (PYD), which is the nucleus of the Autonomous Administration, as it is the authority that provides electricity to the area extending from Tell Abyad in the countryside of Raqqa to Ras al-Ain in the countryside of al-Hasakeh, which is controlled by the Turkish armies and the “Syrian National Army (SNA).”
And when the electricity is cut off from the Operation Peace Spring area, “PYD” knows that the water wells, including the “Alok” station, will stop pumping water to al-Hasakeh, according to al-Jashaam.
During “the Operation Peace Spring area,” which began on 9 October 2019 and ended on the 22nd of the same month, Turkey took control of the cities of Tell Abyad in the countryside of Raqqa and Ras al-Ain in the countryside of al-Hasakeh.
This planned outage of water was repeated three or four times, without being linked to any local or international political events. Instead, the goal is to hold the opposition accountable in the public eye in the governorate, according to al-Jashaam.
Three out of 12 pumps in the Alok station pump water to the city of al-Hasakeh and the high voltage that reaches it from the electricity is less than what is needed to operate the pumps, which leads to the operation of one pump out of three, according to al-Jashaam.
Adnan al-Jadaan, director of services in the local council in Ras al-Ain city, said on 18 August that the Syrian regime and the “Kurdistan Workers’ Party” (the opposition accuses the Democratic Union Party of being directly affiliated with the Workers Party, which is banned in Turkey and classified as a terrorist) are responsible for cutting off the electricity supply to the station, from both sources: al-Darbasiyah and Tishrin Dam.
Al-Jadaan added, in an interview with the local “al-Khabour” news platform, that the maintenance technicians of the wells and the station come from the city of al-Hasakeh, and work on maintenance continuously without being bothered or intercepted by anyone.
“Why do we allow them to carry out maintenance if we do not want the water to reach al-Hasakeh?” asked the services director.
At times, some pumps break down due to the weak electrical current, according to what the official indicated.
Not the first time
This is not the first time that al-Hasakeh governorate experienced a cutoff of potable water during the current year, as the city and several parts of its countryside saw a water shortage for more than a day last February.
At the time, the Director of the Water Company in al-Hasakeh, Eng. Mahmoud al-Ekla, told SANA, on 25 February, that they provide the residents of al-Hasakeh and the civilian communities in Tel Tamer district with drinking water by transporting it in tanks from “Nafasha” wells.
In a previous interview with Enab Baladi, the head of the local council of Ras al-Ain, Mari al-Yousef, said that the reason behind the water cuts during that period is because of the cut off the power to the “Alok” station that comes from the “Tishrin Dam,” which is under the control of the Syrian regime forces, and the supervision of the Russian troops.
Al-Yousef added that the dam cut off the electricity to the water station, which led to cutting off the water for everyone, noting that “the residents of al-Hasakeh are not the target of cutting off the water, because the water was cut off at the same time from the residents of Ras al-Ain and Tel Abyad.”
Water used as a weapon
Human Rights Watch, in a report published on 31 March, titled “Turkey/Syria: Weaponizing Water in Global Pandemic?, accused the Turkish authorities of failing to ensure adequate water supplies to the Kurdish-held areas in northeast Syria, which in turn comprises the ability of the humanitarian organizations to prepare and protect vulnerable communities in the COVID-19 pandemic.
This month, access to potable water remained a challenge to households in northeastern Syria; they do not have access to sufficient water. Thirty-six percent of the assessed civilian communities were not connected to the main water network, according to a report released by ReliefWeb, the largest humanitarian information portal in the world.
Trucking was the second most commonly reported source of drinking water in the region, while its high price also constitutes a key obstacle to accessing sufficient water. To cope with water shortages, households have limited other expenses and used their money to cover water-related costs, according to the website report, in conjunction with the high price of transporting water by trucks for the water network, which is not working partially or entirely at times, and there is not enough pressure to pump the water.
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