A Harsh Reality: Millions in Northern Syria Lack Access to Clean Water

Published: Apr 2, 2023 Reading time: 5 minutes
A Syrian boy joyfully washes his hands at a pin-installed tap in his home.
© Foto: PIN Syria

In a world where access to adequate safe water supplies is a human right, Syrian villagers have been trapped in a water crisis for over a decade. 

Access to safe and clean water is a fundamental human right, yet billions worldwide are deprived of this basic need. In northern Syria, a water crisis has been unfolding for years, and the situation has worsened due to the ongoing conflict in the region. As the world observes World Water Day, it is important to shed light on the dire situation of the people in northern Syria, who face severe water scarcity and lack of access to safe drinking water. The difficulty of providing potable water means people are forced to rely on unsafe water sources causing waterborne diseases and feeding in the cholera outbreak.

More than half of the people living in northern Syria rely on alternative and often unsafe water sources to complement their daily water needs. One of the most significant issues people in north Syria face is the drying up of wells and the sulfuric and salty water that cannot be used for drinking. The region's primary water source is the Euphrates River; pumping stations and drinking water networks supply water to the surrounding villages. However, the lack of sufficient water pumping stations and malfunctions in parts of the water network has resulted in some people struggling to obtain water.

In 2021, the water pumping station in north Syria stopped working for 8 months due to the low water level in the Euphrates River, and most of the wells dried up. This has forced people to purchase water through tankers, who are filling up their tanks from the polluted rivers where the water is neither sterilised nor ready for drinking. Using such water has caused the spread of waterborne diseases like cholera, which has threatened many people's lives; so far, more than 60,000 suspected cholera cases have been reported since late summer in Syria.

It wasn't always this way. Before the war, 98% of Syrian city dwellers and 92% of people in rural regions had reliable access to clean water. However, Syria's drinking water supply fell by 40% in the war's first decade.

"After the war, the drinking water network has been broken and hasn't been fixed since," says Khalid, a 55-year-old Syrian man who lives in northern Syria. "Other people can only buy water from tank owners, even though this water is directly from the river, not sterile and unsafe to drink."

Khalid is one of the villagers who have suffered water scarcity for years as the water he used was unsuitable for drinking, and his well had dried up. "The water in the well is not suitable for drinking. Therefore, before PIN's support, I travelled 8 km every two days to fill gallons of drinking water from the pumping station. Now it is available from a tap inside my home."

The water crisis in north Syria has resulted in a lack of safe water, high costs of water trucking, outbreaks of water-related diseases due to the use of untreated water and the unavailability of water due to a lack of spare parts for maintenance of the pumps. The water stations are the only sources of well-treated drinking water. The absence of periodic maintenance and the impact of war has damaged the water networks, preventing drinking water from reaching families in distant villages.

"Our village has a great water shortage, especially during summer. This puts us in great distress," says Ali, a 65-year-old man who lives in northern Syria with 4 of his children and their families. 

"I have a flock of sheep and two cows. If I can't even provide water to my family, how will I hydrate the animals?"
- Ali, a 65-year-old man who lives in northern Syria.

Ali used to fill his tractor to fill a 5000-litre tank with water from the river so his family and animals could drink from it. Even though they knew the water was not sterile, they had no other choice. "Not only getting water like this is unsafe but also very expensive. The daily worker's wage is 15,000 Syrian pounds which can barely cover water and food for the day. If a worker doesn't work for one day, his family will have no water to drink," Ali adds.

Recently, People in Need finished rehabilitating the water network in two villages affected by water shortage; a large area and population density characterised both villages. The rehabilitation of the water networks has made clean, sterilised and potable water available to the residents of these villages.

Ali and Khaled are two of the 500,000 individuals who benefitted from this support.

"Thanks to this [work], water is delivered directly to us with sufficient pressure. We can now drink clean and sterilised water in our houses," Ali mentions. "Some people couldn't even afford to buy water tanks. Life has returned to us with the return of water after an absence for more than a decade," he concludes.

Sustainable water management is critical to ensure enough clean and safe water is available for human consumption, agriculture, industry and other uses. It can help ensure water resources are used efficiently, fairly, and sustainably. It also builds resilience in societies and ecosystems and reduces carbon emissions.

With no end to the crisis that is devastating their lives, millions of Syrians will continue to struggle to access clean drinking water. Some areas have reached the point where even the most basic services are out of reach. This humanitarian crisis is a collective responsibility; it will not end until these needs are addressed. Until then, Syrians will continue to suffer from an unimaginable level of deprivation. 

People in Need has been conducting maintenance for damaged parts of the station and installing new parts in addition to chlorine injections. Technical training has been provided to stations, department staff, and operators, covering capacity building in electric, mechanical, chlorination equipment, administration, and archiving topics. In addition, PIN has improved access to water for more than 200,000 people in the last year in Syria alone. This success has been achieved through sanitation, waste removal services and Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene projects in schools.

Autor: Mayladan Zaynab, PIN Syria

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