Turkish authorities’ failure to ensure adequate water supplies to Kurdish-held areas in northeast Syria is compromising humanitarian agencies’ ability to prepare and protect vulnerable communities during the COVID-19 pandemic, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said on Tuesday in a statement published on its website.
Turkish authorities should immediately do everything they can to resume supplying water through the Allouk water pumping station, it added.
Turkey and Turkish-backed forces took control of the Allouk water station during a Turkish offensive in northeast Syria in October 2019. The station, located near the town of Ras al-Ain (Serekaniye), serves 460,000 people in the al-Hasakeh Governorate, including al-Hasakeh city and three displacement camps.
Aid organizations have told Human Rights Watch that the Turkish authorities have interrupted water pumping several times since the start of the year, with the latest interruption on March 29.
“In the midst of a global pandemic that is overloading sophisticated governance and infrastructure systems, Turkish authorities have been cutting off the water supply to regions most under strain in Syria,” said Michael Page, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch.
“The Turkish authorities should do everything they can to immediately resume supply to these communities.”
Local authorities and humanitarian groups in northeast Syria say they are facing immense obstacles in putting a COVID-19 preparedness plan in place. They are unable to bring additional supplies into the region because the border with the Kurdistan Region of Iraq is closed.
The UN Security Council de-authorization of the al-Yarubiyah crossing for cross-border supply in January, due to the threat of a veto of the entire resolution by Russia, has also affected supplies. Al-Yarubiyah was primarily used by the World Health Organization to provide supplies to northeast Syria.
Aid agencies say that because of limited options, they have made it a priority to raise awareness around hand washing practices. However, the repeated interruptions to the water supply has meant that they are unable to even encourage this measure.
Turkey says that authorities in control of al-Mabroukeh and Tishreen Dam have failed to provide electricity to the water pumping station and the Turkish-controlled city of Ras al-Ayn, but humanitarian workers say al-Mabroukeh does not serve the pumping station and that there continues to be enough electricity to operate the water station.
Human Rights Watch has previously documented discriminatory diversion of aid and essential services by the Syrian government. All parties should ensure that they do not block essential services to populations in need, HRW said.