Turkish-backed armed forces cut off the water supply of up to 460,000 Syrians in March, exacerbating a perilous humanitarian situation in the East of the country. Much of the population is already in lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic, with international aid and virus testing unavailable.
The United Nations has confirmed 21 March reports by residents that water had been cut off from the Alouk pump station, affecting the city and region of of Al-Hasaka. At 28 March, it is reported that some intermittent water supply has been resumed.
49 Syrian civil society and human rights organizations issued a statement 27 March saying “This intentional denial of water that the residents of these areas are suffering is a blatant violation of international humanitarian law and is a war crime…This deprivation is also a breach of the right of northeastern Syria’s population to safe and potable water”.
In a 23 March statement, UNICEF’s Representative in Syria, Fran Equiza said “Yet again the water supply from the Allouk water station in the northeast of Syria has been interrupted. This is the latest in a series of disruptions in pumping over the past weeks.
“The interruption of water supply during the current efforts to curb the spread of the Coronavirus disease puts children and families at unacceptable risk. Handwashing with soap is critical in the fight against COVID-19”.
Syria’s first confirmed case of an individual with the COVID-19 virus was reported last week.
"The station is the main source of water for around 460,000 people in (al-Hasaka) city, Tal Tamer and the al-Hol and Areesha camps. Uninterrupted, reliable access to safe water is essential to ensure children and families in the area don’t have to resort to unsafe water sources”.
The World Health Organization (WHO) had already warned in February that a cholera outbreak is likely in Syria in the coming months due to poor water and sanitation access, which has plummeted as a result of the ongoing conflict. Drinking water access has been reduced to a third of what it was before the country’s civil war began almost five years ago, with supplies often being cut off as a way to punish civilians, according to the WHO.
There have already been increases in other water-borne disease like hepatitis A and typhoid, with some 31,460 hepatitis A cases reported last year and more than 1,000 cases reported each week since January, according to Dr. Elizabeth Hoff, WHO representative in Syria.
“This we normally see when the weather is warmer and so on. But it just tells you people no longer have the same access to safe drinking water as before,” Hoff told a press conference.
“Going into the warmer season, what we are particularly concerned about … is cholera," she added. "This is our main fear, but so far we haven’t seen it."
Water supply from the critical Alouk station has been cut off several times since an attack by Turkey on Northern Syria in October 2019 followed United States’ troops withdrawal from the region which effectively opened the door for Turkey’s offensive.