“Water Resources Engineering (WRE) connects engineering hydrology and hydraulics with global, economic, environmental, and societal issues. Our student Nidhi makes this connection here…

In a country divided by war and conflict what could further obliterate life of civilians in Syria? The article titled “Water a ‘weapon of war’ in Syria’s divided Aleppo” published by Reuters on October 15th 2015 addresses the issue of civilians struggling for water in the city of Aleppo where water distribution has become a tool of negotiation used by the warring parties against each other.

Syria has been under a civil unrest for almost half a decade now. The fight between President Bashar al-Assad’s forces and the insurgent rebel groups has already consumed over 250,000 lives and displaced about 11 million civilians. Now with the presence of Islamic State (IS) the situation of the country has become even more susceptible as the country turns into a battleground for both political and religious motives. Aleppo, the largest city in Syria is divided politically with government controlled west and rebel controlled east. Furthermore the water supply system of the city is in the hands of three separate entities making it a strong case of hydropolitics.

The journey of water from Euphrates River through three pumping stations to reach the final consumer, a common Syrian citizen, is no less than an obstacle course. With first pumping station in control of Islamic State, second by rebel forces and the final station in the hands of government, each group has a power to unleash hell on civilians by depriving them of the most basic human need of water. In July last year Islamic State decided to cut supply for three weeks to 40% of the original and down the line rebel groups reduced the supply further. With almost no water reaching the final station owned by the government, there was no water to run power plants and hence there was no electricity to pump water from the Euphrates River. Without any power for pumping, water is often lost to rivers nearby.  Seeing how this problem goes around in a circle I believe it is a pressing issue especially for a region already under constant conflict. The possession of water supply systems should not be able to serve such motives and a better design of such systems need to be put into place that does not allow any singular party to have power over the entire supply.

A larger picture of the water crisis can be seen through the documentation of the Tigris-Euphrates river basin by a pair of satellites called the Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) operated from Germany by NASA. The satellite images have found that the river basin is losing water faster than most parts of the world. The region has lost about 117 million acre-feet of freshwater due lack of rainfall and conflicting water management practices. From my understanding of water resources and research paper from NASA (Voss 2013) acknowledging the ‘alarming rate of decrease in total water storage’ in the basin, it would be reasonable to conclude that the information from the article is reliable. Drop in water levels in Syria have already caused mass urban migrations as farmers abandon cropland and move into cities. However, now with cities devastated by war and water systems divided there is nowhere for civilians to find a healthy source of water. In desperation many have build makeshift wells but unfortunately due to high contamination, the groundwater is unfit for consumption and has caused several diseases like typhoid and salmonella. Moreover, with regular attacks and bombings the city’s infrastructure has all been destroyed specially the water and electricity supply lines. It is hard for engineers to reach the pipelines as the opponent party denies them access from the lines and makes repair a cumbersome and almost impossible activity. Overall the current situation does not have a probable solution but interference from an outside party is needed and a peaceful treaty needs to be reached upon for humanity to survive in the midst of war. Leaving water out of the conflict is the first step that needs to be taken.

Figure 1 Children in Aleppo collect water from the side of the road

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Figure 2 Variations in Total Water Storage in Tigris and Euphrates Basin as measured by GRACE

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URL: http://www.reuters.com/article/us-mideast-crisis-syria-aleppo-idUSKCN0S91EM20151015

Malla, Naline, and John Davidson. “Water a ‘weapon of War’ in Syria’s Divided Aleppo.” Reuters. Thomson Reuters, 15 Oct. 2015. Web. 13 Feb. 2016.

 

Voss, Katalyn A., and James S. Famiglietti. “Groundwater Depletion in the Middle East from GRACE with Implications for Transboundary Water Management in the Tigris-Euphrates-Western Iran Region.” Water Resources Research Water Resour. Res. 49.2 (2013): 904-14. Web.

 

Hammer, Joshua. “Is a Lack of Water to Blame for the Conflict in Syria?” History, Travel, Arts, Science, People, Places | Smithsonian. Smithsonian, June 2013. Web. 13 Feb. 2016.

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