UNITED NATIONS, May 26 (Xinhua) -- UN Undersecretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Mark Lowcock on Wednesday warned of grave consequences of the ongoing water crisis in northeast Syria.
Reduced water levels in the Euphrates since January reached a critical point this month, he told the Security Council in a briefing.
The Tishreen dam in northeastern Aleppo governorate was receiving around 180 cubic meters of water per second, less than half of the minimum amount it takes to keep the dam operational. The low water flow prompted a partial closure, which caused electricity blackouts across northeast Syria, he said.
Tabqa dam, which lies downstream in Raqqa governorate, has been drawn on as an emergency backup. But water levels there are now 80 percent depleted. Engineers operating the Tishreen dam last week warned of a complete shutdown if water levels do not increase, he said.
Nearly 5.5 million people in Syria rely on the Euphrates and its subsidiaries for drinking water. There are about 200 water stations that pump, treat and deliver the water to those people. Those stations cannot function without electricity from the Tishreen and Tabqa dams. In addition to the water pumping stations, some 3 million people would lose their electricity if the dams shut down, as would hospitals and other vital infrastructure across the northeast, said Lowcock.
A total shutdown of the Tishreen dam could cause internal flooding and long-term damage. Wide-ranging knock-on impacts on agricultural production and public health would also be inevitable, he warned.
Crop forecasts for this year are already poor, as Syria suffers the effects of a drought. Below-average rainfall in the northeast has left wheat and barley fields reliant on irrigation, for which water is short. The northeast was previously responsible for 70 percent of Syria's wheat and barley production. If this year's crops fail, food insecurity, which is already at historic highs, will deteriorate further, he said.
Preventing a shutdown of the Tishreen and Tabqa dams requires dams in Turkey to release a minimum of 500 cubic meters of water per second. However, Turkey has been experiencing water shortages of its own, noted Lowcock. "So we would urge all concerned to find a solution that sustainably addresses the needs of everyone in the region who depends on water from the Euphrates."
There have been some reports that in the last few days the amount of water released downstream has increased. That demonstrates that a solution to this set of problems can indeed be found, he said. Enditem