Al-Hasakah Is Thirsty… Have Water Wars Been Declared on the Arab World?

Malik Wannous
Syrian Writer and Translator

Al-Hasakah is experiencing a deadly water crisis, the perfect example of what can become of a large number of Arab cities and countries, who are living at the mercy of water from rivers that come from neighboring countries.

During August 2020, the prelude to what the residents of the region had feared night and day, without having anything to do about it, namely, water wars that could be waged against them efficiently and effectively, because they have reached a stage of helplessness and submissiveness that prevents them from avoiding its emergence, or affecting its course. After days of Turkey’s involvement in cutting the water off Al-Hasakah, Syria, and the thirst of its people for 20 days, Iran cut off the water supply of two rivers that flow into Iraq and are considered lifelines for its people. The misfortunes of this country increased after Turkey reduced Iraq’s share of the Tigris and Euphrates waters. These two events come as Egypt and Sudan are concerned about the thirst that will be caused by the construction of the Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, as they did not succeed in forcing Ethiopia to amend the schedule of filling its reservoir or changing the size of its storage.

Al-Hasakah has experienced a deadly water crisis, which is the perfect example of what can become the tragedy of a large number of Arab cities and countries living at the mercy of waters of rivers that come from neighboring countries. Although it lasted only a short period of 10 to 14 days, it caused thirst for about a million people of the city’s inhabitants and displaced persons, and, according to some reports, resulted in several deaths due to thirst. Although water does not come from one of its rivers, but from the 30 wells drilled to provide fresh water to the Alok water station in Ras al-Ain area, some sources at the “Autonomous Administration in Northern and Eastern Syria” said that it was Turkey that cut the water off the city after electric power was cut off the water station on which Al-Hasakah depended for providing drinking water.

The sources said that Turkey cut off electricity in response to the Autonomous Administration’s refusal to increase the amount of electricity allocated to the Turkish-controlled Ras Al-Ain. Power was restored to the plant only after Russian interventions and international appeals, and after the Autonomous Administration cut off all electricity from Ras al-Ain. It was reported that this is the tenth time that Al-Hasakah’s water supply has been cut off after Turkey occupied Ras al-Ain in its military campaign, launched on 9 October, under the name of the “Peace Spring.” Whether Turkey has a hand in cutting Al-Hasakah’s water off, this time or in previous times, or not, it bears direct responsibility for this act, because it is considered one of the consequences of its intervention in Syria and igniting a war in it after launching attacks on Syria’s democratic forces.

This comes after Turkey reduced the amount of water supplied to Syria and Iraq to one-quarter of the amount agreed upon between the three countries, especially after the operation of the Turkish “Iliso” dam on the Tigris River. Press reports said that the water ratio that came through Euphrates River in Syria reached, last June, a quarter of the share that was defined by the 1987 agreement between Syria and Turkey, which is 500 cubic meters per second as an annual rate. The Euphrates did not reach this level of scarcity in the previous years, and as one of the hashtags that went viral that day described it, “The Euphrates was transformed from a great river into marshes.” Although the US Pentagon, within the framework of a comprehensive evaluation of possible future conflicts, in 1992, predicted that Syria and Turkey would be among 10 centers of wars that would erupt because of water, it has not taken into consideration that it would be between two parties of unequal power as the case is now, after Syria has been exhausted in the ongoing war since 2011. If this is not a war that affects metropolises on both sides of the river and threatens to defeat entire cities, bring desertification to them, and displace their inhabitants, then what is?

Although the crisis lasted only a short period, 10 to 14 days, it has caused thirst to about a million of the city’s residents and displaced people.

To make matters worse, Iran cut off water from Iraq through the Sirwan and lower Zab. Iraqi Ministry of Water Resources spokesman Awni Thiab said in a statement to the Iraqi News Agency on August 22: “The Ministry of Water Resources noticed this decline about 4 days ago, a very large decrease of the Sirwan River from 47 cubic meters per second to 7 cubic meters per second, and the flow at the front of the Dukan Dam on the lower Zab River reached two cubic meters per second, which means almost a total cut off.” Diyala and Kirkuk are entirely dependent on the waters of the two rivers, moreover, the surplus of the lower Zab River, which exceeds the needs of Kirkuk, pours into the Tigris River to benefit the rest of the governorates on its banks, which means depriving them of a considerable quantity of water.

As for Egypt, which depends on the Nile for securing 80 to 85 percent of its water, it has gotten into the nightmare of the future of life in it after Ethiopia constructed the Renaissance Dam, which threatens its share of water, which is expected to drop from 2,500 cubic meters per capita annually to 600 cubic meters per capita annually, according to a scientific paper entitled: “The Israeli Strategy Towards the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam” issued by Al-Zaytouna Centre for Studies and Consultations in early August 2020. This dam became an existential challenge to Egypt, whose president, Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi, signed the Declaration of Principles document in 2015 acknowledging Ethiopia’s right to build the dam, the paper that authorized Ethiopia to obtain loans for the project that was suspended up until Egypt and Sudan recognized Ethiopia’s right to build the dam, which was granted by the document.

Israel had a prominent advisory and possibly a financing role in building the Renaissance Dam, in addition to providing Ethiopia with a “SPYDER-MR” air defence system deployed around the dam to protect it from potential Egyptian attacks in the event that the Egyptian-Ethiopian conflict around it intensifies. Given that Israel has a role in strengthening Ethiopia’s position, a danger threatening Arab countries can be anticipated. It is noticeable that Arab countries have lost the strength that can help them respond to the war declared against them, represented in building dams on rivers that pass through their lands, seriously threatening life in them. As for what some Iraqis have suggested in applying economic pressure on Iran and Turkey to restore Iraq and Syria’s shares of the waters of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, it is nothing more than ‘wishful thinking,’ as these countries no longer control their own political and economic decision to allow them to apply such pressure. Arab countries also discarded the principle of serious and just solidarity with each other, which is what made the powerful states persist in harming them, realizing that a miracle will not happen to save these countries from what was planned for them and is being implemented before their eyes and in light of their helplessness.

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