While the crisis of water shortage and its impacts in northern Syria have been discussed in an international forum held in the city of Hasekê, representatives of Medicine Sans Frontier/Doctors Without Borders (MSF) have sent warning messages about the situation.
At the International Water Forum, attended by more than 300 delegates, a statement was released on Tuesday, condemning Turkey for using the withholding of water as a weapon of war against its neighbours in Syria and Iraq.
As Turkey holds back the water of the two main rivers of the Middle East, the Euphrates and the Tigris with 22 separate dams, this leads to the creation of artificial water shortages in these two countries and creates economic and ecological problems as well as public health issues.
The statement, read by Dr. Ebdullah Mistefa at the International Water Forum, pointed out that a report on Turkey’s violation of international law was to be submitted to international institutions including the United Nations, and called upon the international community to take measures to prevent Turkey from using the withholding of water as a weapon of war.
The statement also called for a joint program to be launched in coordination with research centres and the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (AANES), for prioritising construction of new waste treatment facilites, utilisation of alternative energy sources and delivering water of the Tigris to the worst impacted areas.
Reports and warnings by MSF
MSF, an international humanitarian medical NGO of French origin, has been trying to provide for the needs of the displaced people in north Syria relating to water shortages through a water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) response.
As MSF volunteers carry out activities in camps for displaced people, like implementing the distribution of hygiene kits, water transportation and treatment activities, waste collection, water and sewage networks, latrine construction and rehabilitation, the recent decrease in international funding has negatively impacted these activities, MSF reported on 27 September.
‘Just between the months of May and June 2021, the period when some of these activities were halted, waterborne diseases increased by 47 percent,” said Teresa Graceffa, MSF medical coordinator for Syria.
There are numerous MSF reports regarding serious health issues in north Syria.
In Hasekê, over one million people have faced a reduced access to water for nearly two years now due to repeated and sustained disruptions in the supply from the Alouk water station, which is under the control of Turkey.
People in northeast Syria are also impacted by a severe reduction in the volume of water in the Tigris river, which is the most significant source of water for the area.
In northeast Syria, people have been significantly affected by waterborne diseases and increased food insecurity and are at higher risk of malnutrition due to the poor quality of water and its limited availability.
An MSF-supported primary health care centre in Raqqa reported that the number of diarrhea cases in May 2021 was 50 percent higher than in May 2020.
In July 2021, rising numbers of diarrhea cases in more than 30 camps in Idlib governorate was noticed and also frequent scabies cases and other waterborne diseases in various displacement camps were detected.
‘Our initiatives are not permanent solutions,’ said MSF field coordinator Benjamin Mutiso. “There are still many people who suffer from the consequences of a lack of access to clean water and we find ourselves in a situation where we are unable to cover all the needs.’