There is no life without water
World Environment Day is held each year on June 5. We celebrate it by sharing our engagement on this issue in Iraq and North East Syria, where we have been operating since years.
In Iraq and North East Syria, we have been promoting spaces for reflection and interventions on environmental protection and climate justice for years, with a particular focus on the right to water. Water that is often used as a weapon of war.
Everyone has a role to play. This is the appeal launched by the United Nations on the occasion of World Water Day 2020, at a time that has been defined as an unprecedented attack on water resources.
We have chosen to reiterate the need to defend the right to water through the voices of the activists who are struggling in defense of water in Syria and Iraq.
Climate change, political mismanagement, drought, the construction of upstream dams in Turkey and Iran, the exploitation of large oil companies: these are, among others, the more pressing threats that are putting a strain on the environmental resilience of the country and the access to water of the population. Considering this scenario, there is a real risk that future conflicts may breed.
Currently, Iran and Turkey are controlling 70% of Iraqi water resources and are managing dams and tributaries by changing their flow as a blackmailing mechanism.
Large dams, as Ilisu Dam in Turkey and Daryan Dam in Iran, are seen as very risky due to their potential to drastically reduce the water flow of the Tigris and the Euphrates rivers. This is a danger for the overall environmental balance of the area.
“Nowadays, water is used as a political tool against Kurds, Syrians and us Iraqis. This water belongs to everyone”, states Salman, coordinator of the Save the Tigris campaign.
The campaign was launched in 2012 by a coalition of Iraqi associations and supported by Un Ponte Per (UPP). In all these years, we have been supporting the Iraqi activists, the production of the “Iraq without water” web documentary and the organization of the first two Mesopotamian Water Forum.
Iraq without water is a journey “on the water” of the Tigris river that crosses areas once fertile and prosperous and today at very high risk. At the heart of this journey lies the struggle of a group of young Iraqi activists of the Save the Tigris campaign, that was launched with the aim of raising public awareness on the issue of water resources and encouraging the Iraqi local population to fight for their own right to water, an healthy environment and their right to health.
A year ago, in April 2019, we were present at the first Mesopotamian Water Forum that was held in Sulaymaniyah, in the Region of the Iraqi Kurdistan. About 180 activists and Civil Society organizations from Iraq, Iran, Syria and Turkey gathered in this event.
After one year from the first Forum and in the midst of the Covid-19 crisis, on May 15 and 16, we participated in the second Mesopotamian Water Forum. The meetings were held using a digital platform, one of the most commonly used tools during the Covid-19 pandemic:
“The youth of the Save the Tigris campaign, with their struggle in defense of the people living in the Mesopotamian Marshes and their fight for the recognition of the right of Iraqis to access water, became a point of reference in the area. Year after year, a community made up of activists from all over the Region has emerged around them”, writes Christian Elia, the journalist who followed the works of both the first and the second Forum.
UPP is also active in North East Syria, where we are committed to environmental protection and climate justice. We believe it is necessary to create a space for those who want to engage and take action in this direction: Civil Society activists, experts, technicians and public authorities.
Turkey has long used water as a weapon of war in an attempt to exhaust the Syrian population. During the last Turkish attack, which occurred in October last year, the Allouk water station was targeted on the first day of the invasion, thus leaving nearly half a million people in the Region of the Governorate of Hasakeh without water supplies.
Based both on the extreme emergency that Syria is facing due to the Turkish armed attack and the long-time work that our organization Un Ponte Per is carrying forward to defend the right to water and the protection of water resources in the whole Mesopotamic area, we decided to take part in a new campaign on the issue of access to water.
Water for Rojava is a campaign launched together with local and international organizations active in the area with the main aim of sustaining projects of women’s co-operative and autonomous local municipalities in North East Syria, repairing water infrastructures alternatives to those damaged by the armed attack, building water pumps for refugee camps, digging new wells and creating new farm irrigation systems.