Daraa residents fear thirst as springs dry

Oyoun al-Abed water pumps in al-Ajami town in the western countryside of Daraa - 9 August 2021 (Enab Baladi / Halim Muhammad)

Oyoun al-Abed water pumps in al-Ajami town in the western countryside of Daraa - 9 August 2021 (Enab Baladi / Halim Muhammad)

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Enab Baladi – Halim Muhammad

With the advent of summer, the drying up of several springs in the southern governorate of Daraa raised residents’ fears of a crisis in obtaining drinking water.

In early June, the springs of Oyoun al-Abed dried up in the village of al-Ajami, which supplies the village with drinking water, as well as the towns of Zayzun, Amouriya, and al-Jaara in the western countryside of Daraa.

This was preceded by the drying up of the Zayzun and Muzayrib springs and the Baja springs, north of the town of Nawa, which deliver drinking water to about 20,000 people.

The level of al-Sakhna springs has also decreased to levels that threaten to dry up, and it is considered the only source of drinking water that serves about 15,000 residents in the towns of al-Fawwar, Tal Shihab, and formerly Nahj and Tbariyat.

On 22 June, the Tal Shihab Dirat Hali (an 8600-follower Facebook page covering local news of Tal Shihab) posted an urgent appeal calling on the notables of the town to intervene immediately to prevent the draining of the spring’s resources from illegal drawing and to backfill the wells surrounding the spring.

Springs are key resource of drinking water

Spring water is the main safe resource of drinking water in Daraa. Its alternatives from water wells or water tanks are expensive and unsafe because the water drawn from springs is subject to automatic sterilization with chlorine.

Abdulrahman, 55, a resident of the town of Tal Shihab, told Enab Baladi that the dryness of the springs of al-Sakhna would lead the town to a state of drought and a shortage of drinking water, forcing it to depend on the water from wells that are not potable, because some of it are calcareous ones and others are sulfurous.

Khaled, 35, of Zayzun town, told Enab Baladi that after the Zayzun springs dried up, the Water Directorate, under pressure from the army’s Fourth Division, passed a water line from the Oyoun (springs) al-Abed in the town of al-Ajami to Zayzun military camp, which was a training center for the Fourth Division.

According to Khaled, this project was able to irrigate the town, but the drying up of the al-Abed springs plunged the town into a new crisis of thirst that could only be avoided by wells water.

The dryness of the Baja springs in the northern part of the town of Nawa has also deprived drinking water, according to what Abdulmajeed, 45, said, adding that the biggest defect lies in the water network connected to these springs, in addition to that, the city suffers mainly from a severe shortage of drinking water since 2011, which has forced the population to rely on tank water to drink.

Random well drilling

The indiscriminate drilling of wells led to the destruction of the freshwater “veins” that flow to the springs in the western countryside of Daraa. With the frequent drilling of wells, the abundance of the springs’ water began to decline until it led to the complete drying of most of the wells.

Abdulkarim, 55, a former employee of the Water Resources Directorate in the city of Daraa, told Enab Baladi that the government had previously prohibited the drilling of wells without a prior license, especially near springs and lakes that feed the areas with drinking water.

But after 2011, the residents began digging random wells, which cut the “veins” of the groundwater or pushed it deeper into the ground, which led to a disruption in the sources of feeding the springs until they almost dried up, according to Abdulkarim.

He explained that in the past, wells were no more than 25 meters deep underground, while today, they reach more than 200 meters, a depth that would destroy the “energy carriers” of the springs, which are mostly shallow.

Four thousand irregular wells

In an interview with the state-run Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA), the director of water resources in Daraa, Munir al-Awda, attributed the drying up of Muzayrib Lake to the presence of more than 100 wells near the lake.

Al-Awda estimated the number of unlicensed wells in Daraa governorate at about four thousand, which contributed to the drying up of 13 springs in the governorate.

Abdulrahman of Tal Shihab told Enab Baladi that the illegal drilling of “agricultural purposes” from the source of springs is also a major reason for the insufficiency of water for drinking water pumps.

According to Abdulrahman, most of the town’s farmers installed solar energy systems on the wells to ensure continuous operating hours during daylight hours.

Warnings of losing drinking water

Drinking water plants are subject to an automated sterilization system with chlorine, which provides healthy water for the residents of the towns, and this is what the people of the western countryside of Daraa will miss because the water from tanks and wells is not subject to sterilization.

International aid organizations warned in August 2021 that millions of people in Syria and Iraq are at risk of losing access to water, electricity, and food amid rising temperatures and record low water levels due to lack of rainfall and drought.

According to the Associated Press, the two countries need to move quickly to combat the acute water shortage, and the drought will also disrupt the electricity supply, as low water levels affect dams, which in turn affects basic infrastructure, including sanitation systems.

In early October 2021, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said in a report on the access to safe water to the population in Syria that the conflict that has been going on for more than ten years has led to a weakening of access to basic services in Syria, including access to safe water.

Before 2010, 98 percent of urban residents and 92 percent in rural communities had reliable access to potable water. Today, the situation is different, with only 50 percent of water and sanitation systems working properly across Syria.

The report stated that the causes of the water crisis are many and complex, but the only thing that is clear is that it is a direct and indirect result of the ongoing conflict.

Water systems were damaged by the war, proper maintenance was not carried out, and in some cases, facilities lost between 30-40 percent of the technical and engineer staff needed to keep the systems working, in addition to many experts leaving Syria while others retired without being able to train and transfer their knowledge to the new younger generation, according to the report.

 

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