Home Investigative Reports Desertification Threatens the Ghab Plain after TIP Removed Irrigation Pipes Fed by the Orontes River

Desertification Threatens the Ghab Plain after TIP Removed Irrigation Pipes Fed by the Orontes River

The removal of irrigation water pipelines led to a greater flow of the Orontes towards Turkey

by bassamalahmed
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Executive summary

After dismantling the Zayzoun power stations and selling most of its equipment, including the gas pipelines supplying it, in late 2019,[1] the Syrian branch of the Turkistan Islamic Party (TIP) continues to loot and sabotage public property in the Ghab Plain, Hama, in 2020.[2] The Party’s acts amounted to digging up the galvanized water pipes (extending over a distance of more than 10km) feeding the dams of the Ghab Plain from the Orontes/Asi River. Those pipelines removed are the backbone of the irrigation systems in the region, as more than 2000 dunums (equivalent to 200 hectares) of land planted with vegetables rely on them for irrigation.[3]

That led farmers to rely on artesian wells as alternatives to feed their lands,[4] which is, however, a costly process, as the well’s one-hour operation needs 7 litres of Mazut (fuel oil), which thus raises crop production cost and threatens the main livelihood of the region’s residents.

Nevertheless, the most dangerous consequence for the pipes’ removal is the long-term desertification of the region. Means that around 100 thousand dunams (equivalent to 10.000 Hectares) of land at the very least are on the verge of drought, while the rest of land would be cultivated again with wheat and barley, and hence would lose its agricultural quality over time.

STJ field researcher suggested that several parties benefit from the TIP’s uproot of water pipes, on top of which is Turkey, as the entire water of the Orontes will thereby flow to its territories.

A geopolitical expert and hydrologist explained to STJ that since it has an estuary, Turkey used to get 36% from the water of the Orontes River a year, equivalent to 1.2 or 1.3 km3 out of 3.3 bn km3, or 2.5 bn km3, of the total amount of the river’s water flow. But today, after the river stopped flowing to the Ghab Plain, Turkey’s share of its water rose to over 65%, which allows it to better infrastructure mainly in agriculture and power.[5]

Continuing with its acts of looting, in mid-May 2020 the TIP started extracting metal panels fixed to the cooling tower of the Zayzoun power station to sell them, and to make the process easier, workers brought the tower to ground arbitrarily which resulted in its total damage.


For this report, we interviewed 19 witnesses, two locals of al-Ziyarah district in the Ghab Plain, four farmers, three former employees in the irrigation project, three media activists who witnessed the lootings, a member of the al-Ziyarah local council, a fisherman, an informed source and a biological expert, who explained the consequences of destroying the irrigation system.

With regard to dismantling and looting the Zayzoun power stations, STJ talked to two media activists, a local of al-Ziyarah and a former worker at the station. The bulk of these interviews were conducted between early March and late July 2020, in person and online.


To read the full version of this report (24 pages) in PDF format, please click here.


[1] “Syria: Turkistan Islamic Party Seizes and Pillages Public Property in Rural Hama”, STJ, 4 November 2019, https://stj-sy.org/en/syria-turkistan-islamic-party-seizes-and-pillages-public-property-in-rural-hama/ (last visited: 7 August 2020).

[2] Most of the references written about the Turkistan Islamic Party/TIP/Uighurs track the beginnings of the Party in Syria to 2012, for its fighters have initially grouped in Turkey and then entered Syria crossing the border strip between the two countries. The TIP’s fighters amassed mainly in the strategic city of Jisr al-Shughour, the city of Idlib, al-Summak Mountain, the Ghab Plain, and the Kurd and the Turkmen mountains, known as Latakia Mountains which are located in the province’s rural parts alongside the Turkish-Syrian border. Being deployed near the Turkish-Syrian border strip indicates that they have obtained logistic aid from Turkey, at least when it comes to recruits that the Party is in need for. The US State Department added the party (which was formerly known as the East Turkestan Islamic Movement) and its leader, Abdul Haq al-Turkistani, on the terrorist lists in 2009, and it was included by the United Nations on the list of terrorist organizations in 2002 after the attacks of 11 September 2001 in the USA.

[3] 1 hectare = 10 dunums.

[4] The artesian well can be established by digging into layers of earth and it does not require a pump to bring water to the surface; this occurs when there is enough pressure in the aquifer.

[5] Syria and Turkey did not agree or even discuss the share of each from the Orontes River, since it is controversial as the River flow through the disputed Hatay province., and eventually emptying into the Mediterranean. Syria also considers the Orontes a national river not a transboundary. However, in 2010 relations between the two countries improved and there was an initial agreement to build a friendship dam between the two countries on the Orontes River, but the project stopped after the outbreak of the Syrian conflict in 2011.

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