It has been many days since the Rasheed family, a family of 11 people living in Al-Hasakah in northeastern Syria, have had water.
During the past period, Rasheed would gather his five sons every morning with plastic bottles, to fill them manually with water from an artesian well owned by one of their neighbors.
The owner of the well and his family volunteered to be ready around the clock to fill water for the residents of the neighborhood, given the crisis they were all going through, as a result of the factions of the Turkey-backed Syrian National Army (SNA)cutting off the water supply from the Alouk water station.
The population of Al-Hasakah is estimated to be more than one million and 200 thousand people. They have all been living without water for a few days, and their suffering has escalated due to the rampage of the Coronavirus positive cases, and the dire need for water in order for them to wash their hands, clean and follow the appropriate precautions to prevent the disease.
This is not the first time the Turkey-backed SNA has cut off the water supply. This has happened three times before, but this is the first time it lasted for more than ten days, and this time it is likely to last even longer.
The main reason they’ve cut off the water supply is mainly due to the Kurdish Autonomous Administration cutting off the electricity supply for “Ras al-Ayn”, north of Al-Hasakah, which has been under the control of the SNA since Operation “Peace Spring” where the opposing forces allied with Turkey managed to expel the “Syrian Democratic Forces” from the city. Since then, the city has been plunged into darkness.
Al-Hasakah Is Thirsty!
“On the first day of the water outage, my young son wanted to relieve himself in the toilet but there was no water. I didn’t know what to do and how to deal within the first hours of it,” Rasheed tells Daraj.
He noted that most of the neighborhood residents began to resort to the bathrooms of the mosque to relieve themselves because the mosque had a large water tank. Hours later however, the mosque ran out of the water, and the residents had to start buying huge quantities of water tanks. This was before one of the residents announced that he had a well and invited everyone to come by and fill their containers with water.
Rasheed was lucky for having a well in his neighborhood, as most Al-Hasakah’s residents do not. They have to buy water tanks that are, on the one hand, expensive, and on the other hand, totally unfit for human consumption.
According to the International Committee of the Red Cross, water shortage disrupts people’s daily lives and undermines their abilities to follow basic hygiene precautions to prevent COVID-19 infections.
“Amid a global pandemic that is burdening even sophisticated ruling regimes and infrastructures, the Turkish authorities have cut off the water supply for one of the most vulnerable areas in Syria. The Turkish authorities have to make every effort to resume water supply for those communities immediately,” Michael Page, deputy director in the Middle East and North Africa division at Human Rights Watch tells Daraj.
Human Rights Watch noted that the Alouk water station was the only one supplying vulnerable residents with water in the first place. It supplies areas including Al-Hawl and Arisha refugee camps where thousands of Syrians, Iraqis, and foreigners used to live, in areas previously controlled by ISIS.
Human Rights Watch also documented terrible human conditions in those refugee camps, including clogged toilets, sewage water flowing into the torn tents, and displaced people drinking from washing tanks with worms inside of them. These conditions are likely to exacerbate after the water supply was cut off, and residents are more susceptible to be infected with the Coronavirus.
About Alouk Station
The Alouk water station, east of Ras al-Ayn, is the main source of water in Al-Hasakah, Tal Tamr, and the refugee camps of Al-Hawl, Areesheh, and Al-Tonia where thousands of displaced people live. The number of people who have access to the Alouk station is estimated to be 800,000 people.
Alouk station was founded in 2010 to collect and pump water due to the scarcity of water sources in Al-Hasakah. Where thirty artesian wells were drilled in the city of Eastern Alouk to pump 175.000 cubic meters of water, according to a report by Syrians for Truth and Justice.
The report reveals that water tanks in that station have a capacity of 25,000 cubic meters, in addition to 12 large pumps to pump the water into lines of 67 km in length. Then the water reaches al-Homma station and then it reaches residential areas.
War of Water and Electricity
On October 9, 2019, the Turkish authorities announced the start of a military operation that aimed at expelling the “Syrian Democratic Forces” from the east of the Euphrates. The operation was named “Peace Spring” and it started with air and artillery attacks in conjunction with land encroachment by the opposing SNA allied with Turkey.
When the operation started, the Alouk station was hit by artillery attacks resulting in the destruction of the electricity lines that supply it. Consequently, it was out of service and the water outage in all the areas supplied by the station.
After one week, the SNA took control of the station after entering Ras al-Ayn, as the station was suspended and out of service.
Meanwhile, the Kurdish “Autonomous Administration”, which controlled the “Tishrin Dam” in partnership with the Syrian regime, cut off the power supply for the “Mabrouka power station” which feeds Ras al-Ayn with power after the SNA controlled the city.
After the operation, there was a lack of water in Al-Hasakah and a lack of power in Ras al-Ayn. As a result, the “Autonomous Administration” involved the Russian party in the negotiations to repair the Alouk water station so the water pumping would be resumed. However, the Turks required that the “Autonomous Administration” would allow the pumping of Mabrouka power station from Tishrin Dam. This way, the process became within the rule of “Pumping water in return for power supply”.
Water shortage disrupts people’s daily lives and undermines their abilities to follow basic hygiene precautions to prevent COVID-19 infections.
The Russian- Turkish talks resulted in an agreement to operate Al-Hasakah water station in exchange for supplying Ras al-Ayn and Tal Abiad by seven megawatts of electricity from the Tishrin Dam, through the Mabrouka power station. However, last February, the Turkish authorities reneged on the agreement and required that the SNA-controlled areas would be supplied by electricity through the Tishrin Dam and the Mabrouka station in exchange for reopening the Alouk station.
The disputes between the Russians and the Turks over supplying water and electricity aroused several times, and every time it led to worsening the living conditions of those who are living without these two main services.
Now, the water supply from the Alouk station is again cut off for Al-Hasakah and the “Autonomous Administration” blamed this on Turkey.
On the other hand, the Turkish Anadolu Agency quoted a Turkish security source saying that “ The Assad regime which is controlling the Tishrin Dam station prevents pumping electricity for the Alouk station and that’s why the station is out of service.” He considered that the claims about Turkey cutting off water from Al-Hasakah to allow the spread of the Coronavirus are unrealistic.
Broad Compassion Campaign
The human tragedy in Al-Hasakah, due to the lack of water, resulted in a broad campaign on social media. For the first time, the Syrians themselves launched a Syrian hashtag on Twitter called “save Al-Hasakah” and “Al-Hasakah needs water.”
Under these hashtags, thousands of Syrians and Arabs published posts in solidarity with civilians of Al-Hasakah. They demanded the return of the water supply for Al-Hasakah and putting an end to the human tragedy that threatens the lives of thousands of civilians there.
Among those tweeting about it, there was a group of Syrian artists and actors who called for the necessity of providing the residents of Al-Hasakah with water.