Coinciding with quake, Orontes flood increases panic in rural Idlib
Enab Baladi – Idlib
“Earthly solutions have been exhausted. We do not know where to go”. In words mixed with helplessness and disappointment and with breathing exhausted by fatigue, the 34-year-old Hussein described the condition of his family, who had been displaced to camps in northern Syria after the Orontes (Asi) River flooded the floor of their home in the village of al-Talul in the western countryside of Idlib.
The young man’s family of nine arrived in camps near Salqin in the northwestern countryside of Idlib at dawn on Thursday, 9 February, hours after searching for a place to shelter them after the waters of the Orontes River entered their home.
The river flooding caused a new displacement, coinciding with ongoing rescue and recovery operations of victims stuck under rubble in several cities and towns in northern Syria as a result of the earthquake that hit the region on February 6.
From displacement to displacement
“It seems like we are going to spend our lives in displacement,” the young man explained to Enab Baladi that he and his family were displaced from the eastern countryside of Idlib to Binnish in January 2020 after a massive attack by regime forces in late 2019 on areas of Hama and Idlib, under which dozens of cities and towns were taken over.
He added that they moved to several camps and cities in the north of Syria until they settled in 2021 in the village of al-Talul. But they left the house the young man rented for $40 a month because it cracked as a result of an earthquake that struck southern Turkey and northern Syria.
Hussein settled with his family in a neighboring, less-damaged house, only to be surprised late on the night of Wednesday, February 8, by the entry of Orontes River waters. They had to leave and were able to move some of their blankets and sheets to camps near Salqin.
River waters flooded the agricultural lands and entered the houses in the village of al-Talul after its level rose as a result of the “al-Assad regime’s opening of the al-Rastan Dam.” As stated by the Ministry of Agriculture of the Syrian Salvation Government (SSG) operating in Idlib, this has caused an abundance of Asi River water and a rise in its water levels.
The said river’s rising water levels and flooding caused new displacement in addition to the region’s post-earthquake displacement.
Earthen berm, Not a dam
Hours after news circulated about the collapse of the al-Talul Dam and the spread of video recordings and pictures showing the flooding of the Orontes River waters on the lands, streets, and houses of the village, the SSG’s Minister of Agriculture and Irrigation, Muhammad al-Ahmad, denied this, stating that the area did not contain a dam, according to what the ministry published via Facebook.
The area contains an earthen berm equipped by the Ministry of Agriculture in cooperation with the people to protect agricultural lands from the rising levels of the Orontes River.
Al-Ahmad added that the ministry had set up a competent committee to conduct field screening and control of the Orontes River’s water levels, in parallel with the dispatch of engineering mechanisms to open culverts that mitigate its water level. The ministry worked to temporarily evacuate the people from the area in order to preserve their safety and the integrity of their property, according to al-Ahmad.
Al-Ahmad attributed the rising water level to the opening of the al-Rastan Dam by the Syrian regime, along with the collapse of a concrete dam between Antakya and Reyhanli in Turkey.
In turn, the Syrian Civil Defense (SCD) said that the village of al-Talul had witnessed a displacement movement as a result of the water sweeping away earthen berms that were equipped to prevent the flooding of the Asi River and that its teams were opening water drainage channels and assessing the needs in the area to provide assistance to the people.
Until the moment this report was published, no official Turkish statement had been issued regarding damage to the dam.
The SSG-affiliated News Agency of Sham (NAS) said that the Ministry of Development and Humanitarian Affairs had prepared a shelter in the school of al-Talul to receive 150 families displaced by the flood of the Orontes River.
It also equipped a shelter center in the village of Hayr Jamous, near al-Talul, and removed the collapsed bridge in the village of Jisr al-Hadid, located near the Orontes River. Accordingly, the river’s water levels decreased.
Enab Baladi received local testimonies that the deluge of the river was frequent and the people in the region have constantly suffered from it, but that its damage was limited and that their displacement during the flood period was a precautionary measure to which the people have grown accustomed during the past years.
Damages incomparable to that of a disaster
“There is no suffering compared to that resulting from the earthquake,” the young man said, adding that his and his family’s survival from the earthquake and the destruction of their house in the village of al-Talul by the flood of the Orontes River is considered a simple matter in the face of the earthquake, which resulted in thousands of victims between dead and wounded in northwestern Syria.
The young man pointed out that their survival was accompanied by sorrow, with the death of a number of their relatives under the rubble in the town of Armanaz in the western countryside of Idlib.
The regime is investing
At a time when the Syrian regime’s government is widely criticized for “stealing” the relief aid that failed to reach the people in the areas under its control, the deteriorated living and economic conditions, and the political exploitation of the earthquake, the flood of the river in al-Talul did not pass without the governor of Idlib commenting and declaring a position.
The pro-regime local newspaper al-Watan quoted the governor of Idlib, Thaer Salhab, as saying that there is no reliable information about the cracking of the al-Talul Dam on the Orontes River and that the presence of the dam in opposition-controlled areas prevents the competent authorities from accessing and inspecting it.
Salhab added that the governorate and the government “have a duty to take care of all citizens” and that they “wish to do so, but the armed men prevent the flow of aid and the entry of specialists, and they continue to close the crossings with government-controlled areas.”
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