Farmers in northeast Syria welcome return of Khabur River as Turkey releases dam waters after quake 

Farmers in northeast Syria welcome return of Khabur River as Turkey releases dam waters after quake 
3 min read
Farmers across northeast Syria are welcoming the return of the Khabur River waters which are flowing once again into the region after Turkey had to release water from dams damaged in the earthquake.
Agriculture in northeast Syria has suffered due to Turkey building dams upstream on the Euphrates River [Delil Souleiman/AFP via Getty]

The Khabur River has started flowing into northeast Syria once again after nearly 14 years of drought, after the earthquake which hit the region on Monday 6 February.

The renewed flow of water has rekindled hope among farmers in al-Hasakah province in northeast Syria, through which the river passes, that this could revive agriculture in the region and improve the local economy.

Farmer Awad Al-Ahmad told The New Arab's Arabic-language sister site Al-Araby Al-Jadeed: "Ten years ago, Turkey cut off the flow of the Khabur River into this area, but after the recent earthquake it was forced to open small channels from the dams."

The Khabur River basin is a wide area encompassing al-Hasakah province in northeast Syria, an area historically known as Syria's "breadbasket" due to its fertility - due to the abundant waters flowing in from the Khabur, which is a tributary of the Euphrates.

However, a mixture of drought, and a number of Turkish dams constructed upstream on the Euphrates River, have drastically cut the flow of water into the region, especially in recent years. This has had an adverse affect on farmers.

Damage to several of Turkey's dams after the earthquake led Turkey to release some of the dam waters to decrease pressure and prevent flooding, with heavy rains also a factor in the increased water flow.

"The farmers here used to cultivate 20 to 30 dunams but could only farm one dunam after the river dried up. We are asking the powerful countries to pressure Turkey to let the waters from the Khabur keep flowing so that we can rebuild the economy here, and grow enough wheat for the people", Al-Ahmad said.

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Another farmer, Hussein Al-Hassan said: "The Khabur River used to give us enough water to plant trees, citrus fruits, apples, grapes, and wheat," adding that one dunam used to be able to produce around 800 kilos of wheat.

"When the Khabur waters were cut off, the farmable area declined sharply. This year I could only plant one and a half dunams - which isn't enough," he says.

Al-Hassan continued, "We farmers were happy to see the river flowing again, and have installed water pumps, but we are asking the international community to pressure Turkey to keep the river flowing so we can live. Everything disappeared, the Khabur River irrigates the area from Ras al-Ain to the Iraqi border. We went through years of drought - life died when the river was cut off."

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Muhammad Al-Aswad, co-chair of the Water Resources Department in Al-Hasakah for the Kurdish-led Autonomous Administration of North East Syria (AANES) said: "The Khabur River is one of the most important rivers in the Al-Jazira region in particular, and Syria in general, as around 150 hectares of fertile farming land extend along the river.

"From its source in Ras al-Ain to where it meets the Euphrates at Al-Busayrah, these vast areas are cultivated with strategic crops like wheat, cotton, corn, and seasonable vegetables."

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He said the river flow had been cut off over ten years ago on the Turkish side, and the riverbed had almost dried up. The river only flowed in times of heavy rain and flooding, he explained.

He added, "Many farmers were forced to abandon farming, which led a decline in agricultural production." He said the return of the river which was currently flowing at a rate of 15 cubic metres per second was a hopeful sign that agriculture could recover in the region and revive the local population.

The Khabur River originates from several springs to the west of the town of Ras al-Ain near the Turkish border.

This is an edited translation from our Arabic edition with additional reporting. To read the original article click here.