Damascus water crisis continues as clashes threaten ceasefire

Opposing sides blame each other for bombing of pumping facility near Syrian capital

Syrians fill plastic containers with water at a public fountain in Damascus. Photograph: Louai Beshara/AFP/Getty Images

Syrians fill plastic containers with water at a public fountain in Damascus. Photograph: Louai Beshara/AFP/Getty Images


Clashes between Syrian government forces and insurgents around the chief source of water for Damascus, which have deprived four million people of fresh water and jeopardised a week-old ceasefire, continued yesterday.

The flow from insurgent-controlled mountain springs at Wadi Barada and Ain al-Fijah, west of Damascus, was cut temporarily by the water board on December 23rd before water polluted by diesel oil reached distribution plants supplying the capital and its suburbs.

The supply was subsequently disrupted by radical fighters based in the area, prompting the Syrian army and Lebanese Hizbullah to mount an offensive against armed elements in Wadi Barada and Ain al-Fijah. The latter has, reportedly, been captured by pro-government forces.

Jens Laerke, a spokesman for the United Nations humanitarian office in Geneva, told the New York Times on Tuesday that the “deliberate targeting of the water infrastructure” had caused the shut-off. “But we are not in a position to say by whom,” he said. “The area has been the scene of much fighting, so we have not been able to access it.”

Pipelines mined

Opposing sides blame each other for bombing the pumping facility at Ain al-Fijah. Video posted on a Facebook page indicated the pipelines carrying water to Damascus have been mined by al-Qaeda-linked group Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, which along with Islamic State has been excluded from the ceasefire brokered by Russia and Turkey.

However, an activist-run media collective in the Barada Valley said government and Russian aircraft had bombed the Ain el-Fijah water-processing facility, puncturing its fuel depots and contaminating the water stream.

Damascus, its suburbs and nearby towns have been affected differently by the cuts. The capital’s commercial centre, which has hotels, receives enough water to get by.

One resident named Joseph, who lives in the St Thomas’s Gate area of the Old City, said water flows every few days for four hours. “But it’s a problem if it comes when there is no electricity to pump it up to the roof tanks. We use plastic plates we can throw away and drink bottled water,” he added.

There is no piped water in the upmarket northwestern suburb of Doumar, where another resident, Nadia, said her family had to beg a tanker owner to deliver water, at a high price.

“This is the worst time,” she said. “The tanker drivers blackmail us. We have no water to wash, flush the toilet, clean the house. Yesterday I had enough to wash clothes. I was so happy to see clothes on the line.”