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Water Crisis in Northern and Northeast Syria - Immediate Response and Funding Requirements (9 September 2021)

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At the start of 2021, more than two out of three Syrians living in northern and northeast Syria (NES) were estimated to be in humanitarian need, a significant increase compared to 2020. This amounts to 4.5 million or 68 per cent of the 6.6 million people living in Aleppo as well as Deir-ez-Zor, Al-Hasakeh and Ar-Raqqa Governorates.

Since April/May 2021, the humanitarian situation in northeastern Aleppo as well as Deir-ez-Zor, Al-Hasakeh and Ar-Raqqa Governorates has deteriorated further due to significantly reduced water availability and access, as a result of the following climatic and man-made factors:

  • unprecedented low water levels of the Euphrates River since January 2021, following low water flows into the Syrian portion of the river and the principal water reservoirs in NES;

  • low and erratic rainfall during the 2020/21 winter season, accompanied by higher than average temperatures, leading to drought-like conditions in the region during the second quarter of 2021 and severely affecting agricultural production there as well as in other parts of Syria;

  • recurring shutdowns and reduced operational capacity of Alouk water station, supplying an estimated 500,000 people in Al-Hasakeh city and surrounding areas;

  • similarly, disruptions to the water system, including the Al-Khafsa water station and the Ein El-Bayda water pumping station, which used to supply water to an estimated 184,000 people in Al-Bab sub-district in northern Aleppo.

These factors combined have had a severe negative impact on the availability of water and people’s regular and reliable access to water as well as their right to an adequate standard of living. The situation has further impacted public health, as households are increasingly consuming water that is unsafe and also have less water for domestic use, including for hygiene and sanitation. This has limited the ability to implement critical prevention and control measures in the current COVID-19 context, including handwashing in education facilities, with risks associated with other communicable diseases to increase in autumn and winter. The prevalence of water-borne diseases in the affected areas has risen, placing additional strain on a public health system already debilitated by years of crisis and overburdened by the COVID-19 pandemic. In the current context of economic deterioration – where prices for food and basic goods have risen dramatically while available income and purchasing power for most people have shrunk – many cannot afford the increasing costs for trucked water or other private supply modalities.

Reductions in both rainfall and river water for irrigation, in combination with high prices for agro-chemicals and fuel, already have and are predicted to further cause substantial harvest losses as well as increases in food prices. These trends have worsened already high food insecurity and malnutrition rates amongst the population.

The overall deterioration in people’s living standards is aggravating multiple, pre-existing protection needs and risks, threatening social cohesion and encouraging more widespread adoption of harmful coping mechanisms, including amongst an estimated 289,000 IDPs (internally displaced people) living in ‘last resort sites’ in NES.

Under International Human Rights Law (IHRL), the right to water is recognized as part of the right to an adequate standard of living. The human right to water is indispensable for leading a life in human dignity. It is a prerequisite for the realization of other human rights. Access to safe, affordable and reliable drinking water and sanitation services are basic human rights. They are indispensable to sustaining healthy livelihoods and maintaining people’s dignity. In Syria the right to water is further protected by the application of relevant International Humanitarian Law (IHL) norms.

Scope of Plan

Since April/May the coordination mechanisms in all areas of the response – mainly the Syria Humanitarian Country Team (HCT) and the Northeast NGO Forum (NES Forum), with the Syria Cross-Border Humanitarian Liaison Group (HLG) now joining through this plan – have exchanged on response planning and preparedness efforts, with initial support by specific WoS Sector Coordinators and increasingly the entire WoS Inter-Sector Group (ISG). This plan consolidates response priorities across all areas of the response and involved sectors. It is geographically limited to the Governorates of Deir-ez-Zor, Al-Hasakeh and Ar-Raqqa as well as northeastern Aleppo Governorate, where a particular confluence of factors since late 2020 and early 2021 have led to significant levels of water scarcity, triggering needs across several sectors. Activities under this plan seek to address the immediate needs stemming from the multi-dimensional water crisis in this area. It is acknowledged that some of the same factors which have affected northeast and northern Syria have also impacted other areas of the country, including drought-like conditions leading to significant losses in crop and livestock production in south and central Syria. As a result, a dire food and nutrition security situation is currently evolving across NES, south/ central and western Syria, with related needs expected to further grow during the remainder of 2021. These needs will be responded to by the relevant sectors under the framework of the 2021 HRP, with any continued response requirements to be folded into the 2022 HRP.

All activities and funding requirements are within the programmatic scope and budget of the 2021 HRP. Identified funding gaps are for the next four months (September-December 2021), and for activities to be implemented during the next six months (i.e. by latest end-February 2022) or else to be continued under the 2022 HRP. All sector activities included in this plan have been prioritized along these parameters and hence require full funding to ensure a comprehensive immediate response.

As applicable, this plan outlines (but does not include associated costs for) longer-term response and linkage efforts with postconflict and development programming, which will be required to more sustainably address the structural causes which have led and contributed to the current water crisis.

In line with the above planning parameters, through activities laid out in this plan humanitarian partners aim to assist up to 3.4 million of the over five million people estimated to be currently affected by the water crisis in Syria during the period of September to February 2022.

Implementation Capacity and Access

Response targets have been defined based on current implementation capacity by partners in the region, which varies across sectors. Collectively, of the 4.5 million estimated to be in humanitarian need in the region, partners across all response areas and sectors have reached 3.1 million on average each month in the first half of 2021.
Humanitarian access conditions, which are generally permissive in the region, have also been factored into sectoral planning. Limitations in response reach are observed in frontline areas, areas of Aleppo and northern Syria under the control of Turkish Armed Forces and affiliated groups, as well as parts of Deir-ez-Zor. There are unique challenges in Menbij and Ain Al Arab in northern Aleppo, where INGOs and national NGOs report relatively lower constraints, though the humanitarian footprint remains low. The Ras Al-Ain-Tell Abiad area (RAATA) is currently only accessible via Turkey by a few international and national NGOs (those granted permissions report relatively low access constraints). In Deir-ez-Zor Governorate, partners from all response modalities face moderate or higher levels of access constraints due to the frequency of security incidents, particularly in Basira, Hajin and Thiban sub-districts, and social unrest due to rampant poverty and limited access to basic services.

UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs: To learn more about OCHA's activities, please visit https://www.unocha.org/.