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Guy Bechor Photo: Yariv Katz
Guy Bechor Photo: Yariv Katz
 
 

Syria is drying up

If given the opportunity, Syria will ruin our main water source

Guy Bechor
Published: 08.03.09, 08:47 / Israel Opinion

Syria is experiencing an economic holocaust. There is no other way to describe what the Syrian regime is so much trying to hide. The country is drying up, and no less than 250,000 farmers were forced in the past three years to abandon their land and migrate to the large cities. They live in tents there, completely neglected by the regime. These figures appeared in a special study undertaken by the United Nations and published on the al-Arabiya website.

 

The immense Euphrates River, Syria’s main source of water, is drying up. The Turks are stopping its water in their territory, so that Syria and Iraq are receiving a declining portion of the water. Within about 10 years, the river is expected to dry up completely outside Turkish territory. Today already, it reaches Syria with contaminated water and therefore its fish, an important source of livelihood, is becoming extinct.

 

As result of the drought that had been plaguing Syria for several years now, another important Syrian water source, the Aasi (Orontes) River, is drying up as well. Its water is becoming saltier and increasingly contaminated, and its fish are dying off. And without fish, there is no livelihood. Entire villages fed by its waters for hundreds of years are simply being deserted.

 

Ground water in the country had reached such nadir that it is no longer possible to use the roughly 420,000 illegal wells dug by residents over the years. If there is no water, there is no agriculture; people proceed to leave the village and move to the city. As there is no work there either, the distress is terrible and political pressures builds up.

 

Many of the farmers leaving their villages are Kurd, which makes the problem an ethnic one. The Kurdish refugees accuse the regime of doing nothing for them. For several years now they have been living in thousands of tents near the big cities without being addressed.

 

Should Israel pay for Syrian failures?

It turns out that the ruling Baath party is at fault for everything. During the 1960s, the party decided to turn Syria into a grain-exporting state. They viewed it as a victory of the Syrian agrarian revolution. For that reason, they forced the farmers to shift from herding, on semi-arid land, to growing grain. The regime turned a blind eye to the hundreds of thousands of wells that were dug in order to water the grain. Any economist who dared to speak out against this policy was jailed.

 

Now, with the terrible drought, the grim results are overwhelming this land of 20 million people, half of them farmers. Instead of the 1.9 million tons of grains they expected to produce this year, the farmers managed to supply only 892,000 tons. Ruin in Syrian terms. The implication is that Syria is importing its grains today and has no money.

 

Syria has an existential interest in getting its hands on the Sea of Galilee in order to get the water needed for its agricultural land. Meanwhile, the water of our poor Kinneret reaches both Israel and Jordan at this time (we provide a fixed amount every year in line with our peace treaty.) Should Syria touch the Kinneret, the amounts of water pumped out of it will be huge. As it ruined its own rivers and ground water, Syria will also ruin our main water source. It has its sights on it, even though it is uninterested in peace with Israel.

 

Should Israel pay for the failures and mediocrity of the Syrian Baath party? Moreover, when one realizes how badly Turkey robs Syria, should we choose Turkey as the mediator between us and the Syrians? After all, Turkey has an existential interest in seeing the Syrians get the Kinneret. It will take the pressure off.

 

Ahead of the possible resumption of negotiations with Syria, we should know these figures and be cautious. We should hope that the Americans, who wish to advance talks on the Syrian track, will also be aware of this information.

 

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