Water crisis threatens over 12 million people in Iraq and Syria

August 26, 2021

Humanitarian aid organizations have warned against the worsening water crisis that threatens more than 12 million people in two war-torn countries in Asia. 

The groups on August 23 said millions of people in Syria and Iraq are losing access to water, food, and electricity due to the severe water crisis in the region.

“The total collapse of water and food production for millions of Syrians and Iraqis is imminent,” said Carsten Hansen, Regional Director for the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC). 

He said with hundreds of thousands of Iraqis still displaced and many more still fleeing for their lives in Syria, “the unfolding water crisis will soon become an unprecedented catastrophe pushing more into displacement.”

More than five million people in Syria directly depend on the river. In Iraq, the loss of access to water from the river, and drought, threaten at least seven million people. 

Higher temperatures caused by climate change increase the risks and severity of droughts. Across the region, at least 400 square kilometers of agricultural land are at risk of total drought. 

Two dams in northern Syria, serving three million people with electricity, face imminent closure because of low levels of rainfall. 

Closure of these dams would affect the operation of essential infrastructure including health facilities. 

“Communities in Hasakah, Aleppo, Raqqa, and Deir ez Zour, including displaced people in camps, have witnessed a rise in outbreaks of waterborne diseases such as diarrhea, since the reduction in water,” NCR said in a statement. 

The drought has already depleted the water in Iraq’s large swathes of farmland, fisheries, power production, and drinking water sources. 

In Anbar, some households are spending up to US$80 per month to get access to water.

Nirvana Shawky, CARE’s Regional Director in the Middle East and North Africa, urged authorities in the region and donor governments “to act swiftly to save lives in this latest crisis that comes on top of the conflict, COVID-19, and severe economic decline.” 

“In the longer term, beyond emergency food and water, they need to invest in sustainable solutions to the water crisis,” said Shawky.

Gerry Garvey, Danish Refugee Council’s Middle East Regional Director, said the water crisis “is bound to get worse,” adding that it is likely “to increase conflict in an already destabilized region.” 

“There is no time to waste. We must find sustainable solutions that would guarantee water and food today and for future generations,” he said.

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