Drought Blasts Syria & Iraq, Disrupts Power, Crops, Drinking Water

GENEVA, Switzerland, August 23, 2021 (ENS) – More than 12 million people in Syria and Iraq are losing access to water, food and electricity and urgent action is needed to combat a severe water crisis, 13 aid groups working in the region warned today.

Syria is currently facing the worst drought in 70 years while Iraq is facing the second driest season in 40 years due to record low rainfall, according to the United Nations.

Across the region, rising temperatures, record low rainfall, and severe drought are depriving people of drinking and agricultural water.

The electricity supply is being disrupted as dams run out of water, which impacts the operations of essential institutions such as health facilities. Higher temperatures caused by climate change are increasing the risks and severity of the drought.

“The total collapse of water and food production for millions of Syrians and Iraqis is imminent,” warned Carsten Hansen, regional director for the Norwegian Refugee Council. “With hundreds of thousands of Iraqis still displaced and many more still fleeing for their lives in Syria, the unfolding water crisis will soon become an unprecedented catastrophe pushing more into displacement.”

More than five million people in Syria directly depend on the Euphrates River, while in Iraq the loss of access to water from the Euphrates and Tigris rivers, as well as drought, threaten at least seven million people.

Some 400 square kilometers (154 square miles) of agricultural land risk total drought.

Two dams in northern Syria, serving three million people with electricity, face imminent closure.

Syrian communities in Hasakah, Aleppo, Raqqa and Deir ez Zour, as well as displaced people in camps, have witnessed a rise in outbreaks of water borne diseases such as diarrhea, since the reduction in water.

In Iraq, water supplies are depleted across large swathes of farmland, fisheries, power production and drinking water sources.

In the Ninewa governorate, wheat production is expected to go down by 70 percent because of the drought, while in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq production is expected to decrease by half. Some families in Anbar who have no access to river water are spending up to US$80 a month on water.

CARE’s Regional Director in the Middle East and North Africa, Nirvana Shawky, said, “The situation demands that authorities in the region and donor governments act swiftly to save lives in this latest crisis, that comes on top of conflict, COVID-19 and severe economic decline. In the longer term, beyond emergency food and water, they need to invest in sustainable solutions to the water crisis.”

In Al Sebat, 30 km away from Hasakah, residents have seen scores of villagers leaving to other areas, forced out by the drought.

“This year we have witnessed a wave of intense drought and as a result our lands did not produce any crops and we don’t have any sources of drinkable water either for us or for our animals,” said Abdallah, a tribal leader from Al Sebat. “It is infuriating to think that the current conditions will force us to leave the rural areas and that our lands will be left as ruins.”

Many farmers have spent their savings and gone into debt to keep their animals alive.

“Because of the drought I was unable to harvest any wheat,” said Hamid Ali from Baaj, one of the worst affected districts in Ninewa, Iraq. “Now I am overwhelmed with debt.”

The Danish Refugee Council’s Middle East Regional Director Gerry Garvey said, “This water crisis is bound to get worse. It is likely to increase conflict in an already destabilized region. There is no time to waste. We must find sustainable solutions that would guarantee water and food today and for future generations.”

Other aid groups joining today’s warning and call for emergency and flexible funding are: ACTED, Action Against Hunger, Mercy Corps, People in Need, Première Urgence Internationale, War Child, Help, Women Rehabilitation Organisation, VIYAN Organization, Al Rakeezeh Foundation for Relief and Development.

Featured image: Syria as seen from space, August 29, 2018, ( Photo by Alexander Gerst / European Space Agency)

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