Degradation of oil facilities in conflict-torn northeast Syria has led to spillage of tens-of-thousands of barrels of oil into canals and creeks, contributing to persistent and extensive contamination of water and groundwater resources. A new report from Netherlands-based NGO PAX for Peace, A River of Death, released 1 July, examines pollution from a large oil storage facility that collected all the crude oil coming from the Suwaydiyah (also known as the Jazeera or Rmeilan) oil field.
Contamination began in 2011 when the Kurdish-led PYD assumed control over most of the area from the Syrian regime and later established an Autonomous Administration in the country. Satellite imagery from 2013 confirmed continuation of oil spills.
Crumbling oil infrastructure in the area causes frequent oil spills from broken pipelines and leaking oil tanks. The pollution in a nearby creek was reported by local communities and documented by local media. The water contamination is excerbated by seasonal flooding; farmers have lost entire crop fields as seasonal rains have flooded the polluted canals, creeks and rivers, spreading oil over thousands of hectares of land.
Oil facilities have been damaged by nearly a decade of conflict, but the oil industry is an essential source of income for the Kurdish-led Autonomous Administration. Current tensions with Turkey and the Syrian regime block the importation of materials for reconstruction and capacity management; a lack of prioritisation from local authorities has further escalated the environmental disaster.
The report highlights the importance of sustained monitoring of the impact of conflict on water and agriculture. The findings include information on the health and livelihoods of thousands of families living near the river who have been demonstrably affected by the pollution.
“The US-led coalition stated they are there to protect oil, yet no one is protecting civilians from the oil pollution that is now festering in the region. Local people are suffering and we need bold action by all responsible actors and States to come up with a sustainable solution, “ says Wim Zwijnenburg, Humanitarian Disarmament Project leader at PAX and author of the report.
The report provides key recommendations to local authorities, States and international organisations, urging them to act swiftly in taking measures to address these problems and save lives.