Briefing Note: Humanitarian Situation Overview in Northeast Syria (June 2021)

Originally published



In April 2021, the Global Drought Observatory (GDO) issued a drought warning for eastern Syria, notably the country’s breadbasket.

Their drought analysis for Northeast Syria (NES) placed vast territories under High to Moderate risk, regions that, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), are already “dry” and “cold”a with “low production potential” and “erratic rainfall.”

While the GDO’s warning from April becomes ever more salient as time passes, the contributing factors necessary to appreciate the “risk” go well beyond what the Syrian Ministry of Agriculture has called the country’s worst drought in seventy years. Keeping with drought alone, the conflict in Syria that started over a decade ago subsists amid a much broader, much more extended period of regional drought considered the worst of its kind in at least the past nine centuries.

Troubling though it is, the drought and its intermittent spells are but one of many aggravating factors that complicate and increase the threat to the lives and livelihoods of the Syrian people. In NES, water scarcity is closely linked with the control and management of rivers and groundwater and other natural hazards, including an already dry and worsening climate. But a once in ninecentury drought is destined to have a sweeping impact across the region.

The Tishreen dam lies roughly 60 kilometre (km) from where the Euphrates River crosses into Syria from Turkey. In reaching the border, the river has already negotiated its way through five artificial barriers, primarily hydroelectric dams, each collecting a toll on the amount of water that continues flowing south. On 16 June, engineers at the Tishreen dam warned humanitarian actors that water levels had reached a critical point.

A further 70 km southeast of Tishreen is the Tabqa dam, situated west of Ar-Raqqa, which provides emergency backup for millions of people in need of electricity, drinking water and irrigation. By May, water levels at Tabqa dam were already roughly 20% of normal.

A further 170 km northeast, along the banks of the Khabur, a perennial tributary to the Euphrates in Syria, is the Alouk water station. Itself powered by the Tishreen dam, Alouk sits along Syria’s northern border with Turkey. A mainstay of political authorities in the region, Alouk is essential to water resources across Al-Hasakeh. Yet, frequent shutdowns (twenty in the past year) and badly needed repairs leave the flow of water from Alouk insufficient to meet the needs of the population it serves – a problem made considerably worse by inconsistent access granted to technical teams to enter the station.

The present factsheet, a zoom-in on the water crisis by the REACH Humanitarian Situation Monitoring team, seeks to shine a light on the complexity of this crisis, focusing on the intersectoral linkages needed for an effective humanitarian response.


To accumulate the data necessary for this factsheet, REACH relied on various information sources. First and most commonly used are the data from ongoing research cycles at REACH, including the May rounds of the Humanitarian Situation Overview in Syria (HSOS) and the monthly Market Monitoring exercise. In May, HSOS collected data in 1,213 communities between 1-20 May from 3,739 Key Informants (KIs), while Market Monitoring surveyed 1,316 shops across 28 sub-districts between 3-10 May. In addition, REACH conducted a Rapid Needs Assessment (RNA) ▼ in NES from 3-6 June. The RNA was focused on communities considered to be most immediately at-risk from water scarcity and communities more commonly covered by the HSOS cycle. The RNA covered 250 communities across Ar-Raqqa, Deir-ez-Zor and AlHasakeh Governorates. A KI methodology was utilised for data collection. With a survey goal of three KIs per community, the team collected data from KIs with a range of expertise and knowledge. The resulting data were disaggregated and analysed primarily at the community level using only the available binary data where appropriate. All RNA data and analyses are available upon request. Findings in this factsheet are indicative rather than representative, and should not be generalized across the population and region.