Syria: Drinking water and war profiteers in Aleppo

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A Syrian boy pushes a cart with jerrycans filled with water in Aleppo on May 8, 2014 as residents of the northern city suffer constant water shortages due to the three-year-long conflict. (Photo: Baraa al-Halabi)

By: Suhaib Anjarini

Published Sunday, June 15, 2014

A “revolutionary” bomb sabotaged a major water pipeline that pumps drinking water in Aleppo earlier this month. Relief organizations made deals with some of the armed groups to bring in diesel for the pumping station. But the quantities brought in far exceeded the station’s need. Al-Akhbar sheds light on the issue.

The Syrian war has turned into a business in every sense of the word. Everything is negotiable and everything is up for sale. Numerous mafias have emerged and while they used to profit from developments brought forth by the war, now they contribute to directing the war. These mafias have moved from the phase of benefiting from crises to the phase of fabricating crises to serve their interests. The newest example in this regard is the bombing of a major pipeline for pumping water in the city of Aleppo, which has opened the door for the mafias to reap more of the black gold.

Earlier this month, a huge explosion rocked the city of Aleppo. It turned out that a tunnel was dug in the middle of al-Midan street and booby trapped. It was rumored at the time that the purpose of the explosion was to provide cover for gunmen who infiltrated al-Midan neighborhood which falls under the army’s control, before announcing that “the attack failed.”

The strange thing is that the area that was dug, booby trapped and blown up does not have any strategic significance and nothing falls within its range except the water pipeline known by most Aleppans to pass through that area. The explosion destroyed three out of four major pipes that pump drinking water from Suleiman al-Halabi Station and cut the power cable 230 and cable 60 that feed the water pumps. This means drinking water has been cut off in a city that is always threatened by thirst because of constant Turkish manipulation of the waters of the Euphrates river.

Following the bombing, a number of parties worked to “limit the damage” and “repair what was ruined.” But repairing water pipes requires power, which was cut off by the explosion. So the solution was to rely on power generators which run on diesel. Bringing in diesel and repairing equipment requires coordinating with the armed groups, especially al-Nusra Front which controls the water department, in addition to a number of Turkmani brigades, Ahfad al-Mursaleen Brigade, al-Karama Brigade affiliated with one of Aleppo’s most infamous thieves Khaled Hayyani and Fajr al-Hurriya Brigades whose fighters carried out the bombing under the umbrella of Bustan al-Basha Neighborhood Operation Room.

The Syrian Red Crescent in Aleppo, under the supervision of the Red Cross representative, negotiated with these groups. They reached an agreement consisting of two phases. The first phase is operating the water pumps by relying on power generators to ensure pumping drinking water to Aleppo’s neighborhoods alternately through the undamaged pipe. The second phase requires bringing in repair teams to fix the pipes and the power cables. The Red Cross will pay for the repairs and the diesel.

Sure enough, trucks began transferring an average of 45,000 liters of diesel per day under the supervision of the Red Cross. Sources told Al-Akhbar that the amount of diesel brought in is a lot more than the pumping station’s need, which is estimated at 14,000 liters of diesel every 24 hours to work at full capacity. But the station is currently working at less than half its capacity. According to Al-Akhbar’s sources, “the working pumps are three out of seven and they need four megawatts to start, but once they start, they need even less.” Technical sources told Al-Akhbar that “generating four electricity megawatts requires 8,000 liters of diesel every 24 hours.” However, Al-Akhbar’s information indicates that “only one production unit is working at this time, 12 hours a day.”

Repairs will not come anytime soon

The Aleppo water department announced the day before yesterday on its official Facebook page that “repairing the damaged pipes requires securing the area for a period ranging between three to four weeks, providing cranes, forklifts and other equipment as well as workers.” The department added: “The area currently is a trouble spot and civil society organizations are working on bringing in all that stuff.” This means of course that there is no expected time frame to begin the work. It also means that bringing in diesel in the amounts mentioned before will continue for God knows how long so that rationed drinking water continues to flow.

Questions remain about the fate of the excess diesel, the parties getting it and the reasons for bringing in that much in the first place, especially that those in charge should know the needed amount for operation. For example, the Red Crescent announced that on April 27 it “brought in 26,000 liters of fuel.” That is the amount needed to operate the production units in the second and third purification stations in Suleiman al-Halabi for 36 hours (even though the station was working at full capacity at the time). It pointed out that “efforts by the Red Crescent to bring in fuel to the water services department in light of ongoing power outages are happening on a daily basis to ensure the continued pumping of water to the people of Aleppo.”

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.


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