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Agencies warn water crisis and drought threaten more than 12 million in Syria and Iraq

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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 warn today.

Across the region, rising temperatures, record low levels of rainfall, and drought are depriving people of drinking and agricultural water. It is also disrupting electricity as dams run out of water, which in turn impacts the operations of essential infrastructure including health facilities. Higher temperatures caused by climate change increase the risks and severity of droughts.

More than five million people in Syria directly depend on the river. In Iraq, the loss of access to water from the river, and drought, threaten at least seven million people. Some 400 square kilometres of agricultural land risk total drought. Two dams in northern Syria, serving three million people with electricity, face imminent closure. Communities in Hasakah, Aleppo, Raqqa and Deir ez Zour, including displaced people in camps, have witnessed a rise in outbreaks of water borne-diseases such as diarrhoea, since the reduction in water.

In Iraq, large swathes of farmland, fisheries, power production and drinking water sources have been depleted of water. In the Ninewa governorate, wheat production is expected to go down by 70 per cent 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 USD80 a month on water.

“The total collapse of water and food production for millions of Syrians and Iraqis is imminent,” said 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.”

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.”

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.”

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.”

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.

Notes for editors:

  • Photos and B-roll can be downloaded for free use and distribution.

  • Syria is currently facing the worst drought in seventy years while Iraq is facing the second driest season in 40 years due to record low rainfall according to the UN.

  • In Turkey, major cities have suffered severe water shortages as the country’s largest reservoirs quickly became depleted at the end of last year.