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Syria: Uncertainty Following the Damascus Water Crisis

Courtesy of Future Directions International, commentary on the Damascus water crisis:

In late December 2016, the main water supply for Damascus and its surrounding region was cut off. The supply was reportedly cut off in the Wadi Barada area west of Damascus due to intense fighting between rebels and government forces over the area. Other reports claim that the water supply was contaminated with diesel fuel prior to being cut off. Uncertainty surrounds who was responsible for contaminating the water supply with diesel fuel, with the Syrian Government accusing rebels in Wadi Barada of deliberately reducing water supplies, while the rebels claim that government strikes were responsible for damaging hydro-infrastructure. The water shortage in Syria’s Wadi Barada region left over 5.5 million people facing water shortages and forced millions to queue on streets for water from water tankers.


On 11 January 2017, the Syrian Government announced it had brokered a deal with opposition forces to restore water to the capital city. Opposition forces, however, denied that a deal had been reached, claiming that the announcement of the deal was part of the Syrian Government’s psychological warfare. This stance has also been supported by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK-based group that documents human rights abuses. The uncertainty surrounding not only who was responsible for the shortage, but also the circumstances of a ceasefire to restore water, demonstrates just how fragile life has become for millions of Syrians reliant on the Wadi Barada water supply.

In early January, the United Nations and its partners were in co-operation with water authorities in Damascus to implement an emergency plan to meet 30 per cent of the city’s water demand. While water has now been restored to the area, damage to important water infrastructure means that affected Syrians are still at risk of cholera and other waterborne diseases.

In mid-January 2016, rebel forces in Wadi Barada allowed government engineers to repair the damaged water station in Ain al-Fija, a town south of Damascus near the source of the city’s water supply. The agreement ended a day later, however, after the head of a negotiation team was killed (with both sides accusing the other of the assassination). Fighting continues in Wadi Barada between forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad, backed by Russia and Iran, and rebel groups. Rebel groups argue that the Syrian Government has used the water shortage for strategic gains, particularly after it was accused of using “starve into submission” policies in the towns of Homs, Mouadamiya and eastern Ghouta. Similar tactics have been used by rebel forces in the past as they have cut water supplies in an effort to prevent the Syrian army from overrunning the area.

Given the intensified conflict in Wadi Barada, it is uncertain whether the rebels will continue to grant government engineers access to the area. Both sides are undoubtedly fighting for control over the region. At this stage in the war, it seems that either side would be prepared to withhold co-operation in the interest of strategic gain.

On January 12, the UN announced that its Syria envoy held meetings in Ankara and Moscow to help negotiate an end to the water shortage in Damascus. Russia, Iran, Turkey and the UN have been assisting in negotiations to restore water to Damascus, but it is questionable whether these countries have also used the crisis to further their own interests in Syria. Restoring water for millions of people remains the critical issue, but only time will tell how long before the supply is again interrupted.

This entry was posted on Wednesday, January 25th, 2017 at 7:16 am and is filed under Syria.  You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.  Both comments and pings are currently closed. 

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