Turkish-backed group, again, cuts water supply to 460,000 people in northeastern Syria

"Turkey has been regularly cutting off the water flow in order to demand that North and East Syria provides more and more electricity."

ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – On Saturday, Turkish-backed armed groups cut the flow from a reservoir that supplies water to areas in northeastern Syria's Hasakah province that are controlled by the Kurdish-led local government, depriving some 460,000 people in the region of the essential resource.

Speaking to the local Hawar News Agency, an official from the administration's Directorate of Water, confirmed the news later that day.

"It was assumed that the Russian state was the guarantor of supplying the city with water, but they did not play their role well," said Sozdar Ahmed, co-chair of the directorate.

The Russian military brokered a deal with the Turkish army in December to guarantee drinking water to Kurdish-led areas in exchange for power supply.

"Following Russian mediation, northeastern Syria has been providing electricity to the Turkish-occupied areas in exchange for water flow," Thomas McClure, a Syria-based researcher at the Rojava Information Center, told Kurdistan 24.

"However, since then Turkey has been regularly cutting off the water flow in order to demand that North and East Syria provides more and more electricity."

Alouk Water Station is near the border town of Serekaniye, which Turkey and its militant proxies took over in October 2019 during Turkey's so-called Peace Spring Operation.

The cross-border incursion, which forced the withdrawal of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) from the town, led to significant damage to the water facility, cutting supply to the Hasakah region for several weeks.

As part of the Russian-Turkish deal that followed, the station’s workers were allowed to re-enter, repair the damage, and resume water flow to areas under the control of the SDF in the Hasakah province in December.

However, on 24 February, Turkish-backed groups started demanding more electricity and expelled the workers at the station, again cutting water supply for over a week.

According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), it was only restored to Hasakah on March 6 after the Kurdish-led local administration in northeastern Syria provided more electricity to the Turkish-controlled areas through the Mabrouka Power Plant.

But now, the Turkish-backed groups are demanding even more electricity before turning the water back on.

"Turkey is now demanding a third of the station’s capacity just for [Turkish-controlled] Sere Kaniye, though this station also has to serve a far larger area encompassing Til Temir, Hasekah, Dirbesiyeh, Amude, Shedadi, Hol and Hol Camp," McClure told Kurdistan 24.

"Turkey’s demands are not feasible, and are intended to exert political pressure on North and East Syria at grave humanitarian costs," he added.

As a result, there is no water for hundreds of thousands of civilians, including thousands of displaced civilians, refugees, and families and fighters of the so-called Islamic State holed up in camps and prisons, respectively.

"All of these populations are at extremely high risk of coronavirus, with local health authorities currently modeling a 10% death rate in the camps and detention centers due to pre-existing spread of tuberculosis and other diseases there," McClure affirmed.

In order to deal with the crisis, the local administration has said it will distribute water to residents through tankers and will also dig wells for home use. In February, the SDF also deployed tankers for this purpose.

"We have several projects," Ahmed added when speaking with Hawar, noting that some were already underway while others would begin soon.

Such efforts, she said, are unlikely to supply the amount of water sorely needed by hundreds of thousands of locals and displaced families and called on the international community and humanitarian organizations to intervene on their behalf.

Editing by Kosar Nawzad and John J. Catherine