Governments are obligated to ensure the right to water for people living under their jurisdiction or other responsibility, and Turkey should ensure that northern Syria’s infrastructure remains operational, the Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in a statement on Thursday.
“Turkey should ensure that Alouk water station operates at optimum capacity without purposeful interruptions to water pumping and should guarantee regular access for qualified repair and maintenance teams,” the New York based organisation said.
“Turkey and other parties to the conflict should also engage with the UN’s ongoing efforts to facilitate approval of a monitoring mechanism, and adequate operational and maintenance capacity of Alouk water station and Derbasiyeh electricity substation,” HRW continued.
The water station in question has been under Turkish control since a military incursion in 2019. “Since then, the people in the Kurdish-held region have experienced lengthy interruptions in their water supply,” HRW said.
While the Alouk station needs at least six of its 12 pumps operational at the same time to pump enough water, Turkish authorities allow as low as four to two pumps, HRW said citing UN sources.
The Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (AANES) made a deal with Turkey in April to provide electricity to Turkish-held regions in turn for water, but the results have not been consistent.
Turkey’s control on the rivers bringing in water to the region has affected the power output as well.
However, the worst damage has come from Turkey’s intense airstrikes between 5 and 10 October, triggered by an attack in the Turkish capital that Syrian Kurdish officials have denied any involvement with. In attacks on more than 150 locations in Al Hasakah, Raqqa and Aleppo, Turkish strikes have killed dozens of people including civilians, damaged civilian structures, and attacked power plants and water stations, resulting in a “complete cut-off” of the vital resources for the millions living in the region.
HRW warned that the makeshift solutions people have had to implement, like water from untested trucks brought into the region, could lead to outbreaks of water-borne illnesses.
The region has already suffered a cholera epidemic last year, and dozens of cases of acute diarrhea and gastric infections. Kidney centres in hospitals have also been affected as they require around the clock supply of purified water.
According to the UN, two-thirds of Syria’s water treatment facilities and half of its pumping stations have been damaged since the civil war broke out in 2011.