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June 6, 2014 1:44 am

Opinion: Syria’s Looming Water Catastrophe

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avatar by Daniel Pipes

Syria rebel forces shell Hezbollah 50-truck convoy. Photo: Screenshot.

Syria rebel forces shell Hezbollah 50-truck convoy. Photo: Screenshot.

Two reports from Beirut’s Al-Akhbar point to potentially catastrophic water problems about to affect Syria.

The lesser concerns Aleppo, where mortar shells and barrel bombs have slackened off but Islamist rebels have shut down the city’s potable water supply, forcing Aleppan residents in government-controlled areas to depend on wells and trucks for limited, contaminated, and expensive water. Lines of women and children “have become ubiquitous in front of mosque fountains and government wells in order to fill small containers such as cooking pots, teapots and plastic bottles as well as small barrels.” According to an official at the Syrian Red Crescent, “The situation signals a humanitarian and health disaster.”

The greater problem concerns the Euphrates River, the second longest waterway of the Middle East. Nearly all its volume originates in the Republic of Turkey, from which it flows into Syria and Iraq, ending in the Persian Gulf. It provides about one-third of Syria’s water supply. In the last few weeks, the Turkish government completely stopped Euphrates waters from leaving Turkey and flowing into Syria, something made possible by the enormous reservoir behind its Atatürk Dam.

This action threatens Syria and also Iraq with water crises. As one indication, the water level in Lake Assad, Syria’s largest body of water, has gone down by about 20 feet. Within days, some 7 million Syrians could be left without water as well as electricity. Al-Akhbar notes that “A halt to the water supply is now inevitable and can’t be resolved unless the Turkish government takes the decision to resume pumping Euphrates water.” To make matters yet more worrisome, the fanatic Islamic State in Iraq and Syria group controls the Tishrin Dam, one of Syria’s three dams on the Euphrates.


(1) The Syrian civil war keeps getting more ferocious, vicious, and barbaric – not a surprise given that Islamists, both domestic and foreign, dominate the fighting on both sides.

(2) The Euphrates River contains some of the world’s most volatile and fearsome waterworks; the Mosul Damin Iraq, for example, could collapse, killing millions. Again, given the three states involved (Turkey, Syria, and Iraq), this also ranks as less than a surprise.

(3) Should terminal dehydration kill massive numbers of Syrians, this will likely prompt Western opinion to call for intervention.

(4) Turkey’s AKP government has already shown itself callous about loss of life (recall the Soma coal mine disaster). But is Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan really about to commit what appears to be genocide?

This article was originally published by National Review Online.

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