Briefing Note: Humanitarian Impact of Water Shortages in Northeast Syria (April 2022)

The water crisis in Northeast Syria (NES) spans multiple dimensions – a meteorological drought, reduced flow in the Euphrates River, and a long-term reduction in groundwater levels. Together, these have led to a severe deterioration in the humanitarian situation. The drought began in late 2020 with a delayed onset of winter rains and low rainfall, later made worse by heatwaves and an early cessation of rains in the spring of 2021. Water levels in the Euphrates then began to decline rapidly starting early 2021. The changes in surface area can be seen in figure 2. REACH and other organisations reported on this in the summer and autumn months of 2021, noting the severe decline in access to clean water, electricity, and the impact on agriculture.

This briefing note serves as an update on the humanitarian situation in light of the continued water crisis. Specifically, rainfall levels have remained substantially below long-term average levels in the current agricultural season. Thus, the European Drought Observatory warned in March 2022 of a medium to high risk of drought impact on agriculture – for comparison, no areas had a high risk in March 2021. Given the duration of the drought, it is likely that not only soils and surface water will be impacted, but also groundwater level. This is particularly problematic as Syria has seen decades of overexploited groundwater, leading to severe reductions in groundwater levels. This is mainly due to agricultural usage, with certain crops and areas of NES relying heavily on irrigation. The following thus investigates how the water crisis has impacted access to water and electricity, agricultural livelihoods, food security and health in NES.

The Euphrates water levels have improved since the beginning of the 2022, with March levels in lake Assad being around a meter higher than in 2021, though still two meters lower than in 2020. However, the situation remains vulnerable as climate change and upstream water usage are causing further declines in water flow. As the Euphrates is the single largest source of freshwater in Syria as well as being an important source of electricity, these developments are highly relevant to the well-being of people in NES.

Source: REACH Initiative