Water shortage in Daraa dams threatens agriculture
Enab Baladi – Jana al-Issa
Last May, quantities of water in the dams of the town of Tasil and the village of Sahem al-Golan in Daraa, southern Syria, overflowed towards the Yarmouk Valley and reached the al-Wahda dam on the Syrian-Jordanian border.
It was reported that there are several reasons behind the water leak, one of which was “intentional targeting” with the aim of water reaching the al-Wahda dam, which is in the interest of Jordan. Another reason was an “unintended” technical failure within the extensions of these dams.
In this report, Enab Baladi tries to mention the effects of the disruption or targeting of water dams in Daraa on the region, with reference to the number of dams in the province and the size of the agricultural areas irrigated by them.
Farmers are the most affected
The flow of water from the two dams for continuous periods raised the fears of the farmers in Daraa, given the difficulty that constrains their ability to secure alternatives of water to irrigate the agricultural seasons.
Abdel Hamid, 42, from the farmers of the city of Daraa, told Enab Baladi that the majority of peasants are afraid that the Sahem dam will be empty in the event of repeated water leaks, explaining that he is currently growing potato crops, after which he will grow the eggplant crop.
Abdel Hamid added that in the event of repeated water leakage, farmers will remain forced to use other, more expensive sources to irrigate their agricultural lands, such as using well water, because they have paid large costs to take care of the crop with fertilizers and chemicals, besides additional production costs.
While another farmer, who preferred to remain anonymous for security reasons, told Enab Baladi that he decided not to cultivate his land by relying on the waters of the Sahem dam for this year. He cited the reasons for his decision to the mismanagement of the dam in terms of equitable water distribution, as there is no deterrent force, and farmers close to the dam benefit more than the remote projects for which irrigation water is supposed to be secured.
What is happening?
On 23 April, the Daraa 24 network said that unknown persons had sabotaged the gates that held the waters of the Sahem al-Golan dam in the western countryside of Daraa governorate, which led to the flooding of the dam’s water towards the al-Wahda dam on the Syrian-Jordanian border. This is after it was filled in early March with only 60 percent of its capacity.
In turn, the Jordanian Ministry of Local Administration, at the time, warned the border municipalities with Syria of torrential rains and floods that might storm their areas due to “heavy rains that fell on the Syrian side, due to the unstable weather.”
According to what was published by the Jordanian newspaper, al-Ghad, on 24 April, the torrential waters from Syria reached some areas of the Umm al-Jamal municipality, especially the al-Kom al-Ahmar area.
On the 9th of last May, the dam of the town of Tasil in the western countryside of Daraa flooded towards the al-Alan area and from there towards the Yarmouk river, with its waters going to the al-Wahda dam.
Activists linked the leak to an agreement between the government of the Syrian regime and Jordan, as the two sides agreed, during ministerial meetings, in September 2021, to reactivate the joint water committee to follow up on the implementation of the agreement signed between the two countries in 1987.
The Yarmouk River Water Investment Agreement No. 33 of 1987, concluded between Jordan and Syria, stipulated Jordan’s right to obtain about 200 million cubic meters of Yarmouk water, and to build a dam of approximately the same capacity for this purpose.
In 2002, Syria pumped 3 million m3 of water from the Sahem dam to the Kingdom of Jordan to help Jordan solve its water crisis.
The al-Wahda dam is a joint Arab dam between Syria and Jordan located on the Yarmouk River. Its length is 110 meters, and its storage capacity is 115 million m3.
Dams without maintenance
The Minister of Economy in the Syrian Interim Government (SIG) in northern Syria, Dr. Abdul Hakim al-Masri, does not believe that the dams’ water flow disruption in Daraa governorate is intentional. He explains that failures are very possible since these dams have not been under maintenance for a long time. He also pointed out that it is normal for the water in them to go to Jordan as a result of the lack of maintenance of pumps and installations.
In an interview with Enab Baladi, al-Masri confirmed that the farmers who are most affected by dam failures are the farmers, as a result of the agricultural lands being completely dependent on them to irrigate lands and agricultural crops, adding that this impact will now double as a result of the region’s wells being exposed to drought due to excessive drilling.
Water dam breakdowns threaten Syria’s agriculture sector as a whole, reflecting on agricultural production and then on people, according to the minister, as agricultural areas are the first beneficiaries and are mainly dependent on the water of these dams, which are reached by water through special pumps through irrigation channels.
Rainwater is also the main source of water stored in dams and is collected through pumps that re-pump rainwater from some valleys towards dams.
While residents of Daraa governorate obtain drinking water through two sources, either springs or wells.
The reality of water storage dams in Daraa
The Sahem al-Golan dam is considered one of the most important storage dams in the western countryside of Daraa, with a capacity of about 20 million cubic meters. The governorate also contains several additional dams with a storage capacity of between half a million and 15 million m3. In addition to a number of small dams whose storage capacity is low, as they are linked to the rainy season in their locations.
According to Enab Baladi, the regime government does not care about periodic maintenance of dams in all governorates, and in the event of a breakdown, it may take days to repair while stored water inside the dam leaks.
The American Association of State Dam Safety Officials recommends a thorough and periodic inspection and control of dams throughout the dam’s life, which ensures early detection of deficiencies and the prevention of breakdowns, with a view to prolonging its life and with the aim of monitoring the dam, its annexes, reservoirs, and the surrounding area.
Enab Baladi’s correspondent in Daraa Halim Muhammad contributed to this report.
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