Syria mVAM Bulletin #55: May 2021

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Situation Overview

• The water level of the Euphrates River in Syria has declined since January 2021, reaching a critically low level in May 2021. The low water levels are believed to be a result of above average dry spells as well as a reduction of water flowing from Turkey to Syria. The Syrian Government reported that the Tishreen dam in Aleppo governorate received around 180 cubic meters of water per second during most of May. This represents less than half of the minimum amount of water outlined by the 1987 Syria-Turkey water sharing agreement, where at least 500 cubic meters of water per second are to be released from Turkey to Syria. Additionally, the water levels of Tabqa dam in Ar-Raqqa governorate, which is used as an emergency backup, were depleted by up to 80 percent. The water shortage crisis is concerning, given that nearly 5.5 million people in Syria rely on the Euphrates and its subsidiaries for drinking water and agriculture irrigation. Furthermore, the continued low water flow could result in loss of electricity for more than three million people as the Tishreen dam water-powered generators are shut, negatively impacting health care and sanitation, livelihoods, agricultural production and food security across the north and north-east regions of the country.

• On 9 May 2021, the Syrian Minister of Agriculture announced that harsh weather conditions and low rainfall levels have significantly reduced the amount of wheat across government-controlled areas this year. In northeast Syria, which is the country’s wheat basket where typically 70 percent of Syrian wheat is produced, the Kurdish authorities announced that wheat production is expected to amount to around 500,000 tons this year, down from 850,000 tons last year. The reduction in wheat production is believed to be due to years of neglect and deforestation (throughout the prolonged conflict between 2012 and 2019, Syria lost around 20 percent of its tree cover), with now over 85 percent of Syrian agricultural land exposed to soil erosion. Additionally, shortages of foreign exchange reserves and unilateral coercive measures on the country complicated Syria’s efforts to procure the required agricultural inputs on the open market. Moreover, on 12 May 2021, dozens of hectares of wheat and barley fields were reportedly burned by artillery bombardment in northwestern Aleppo. In response to the announcement of expected lower than average wheat yields, Russia’s ambassador to Syria announced Russia’s commitment to supply one million metric tons of wheat to the Government of Syria by the end of the year, having already supplied Syria with 350,000 metric tons since January 2021.

• COVID-19 continued to spread across Syria. As of 31 May 2021, a total of 24,495 COVID-19 cases, including 1,770 fatalities, were confirmed by the Minister of Health in government-controlled areas.
The monthly increase in COVID-19 cases in May (1,762 cases) signals a downward trend compared to April 2021 (3,824 cases). In Northeast Syria, the situation has deteriorated during the COVID-19 second wave as many hospitals continued to lack essential health supplies and most people experienced limited access to water and sanitation services to control the spread of the virus. In May 2021, around 17,819 COVID-19 cases were reported across northeast Syria, an increase of 1,891 new cases compared to the previous month, representing the second highest monthly caseload since December 2020. In response, Kurdish authorities extended the imposed partial lockdown in Kurdish-controlled areas across northeast Syria throughout most of May.

• The security situation remained volatile across Syria. In May 2021, intensified hostilities were reported in northwest Syria, with shelling largely concentrated in southern Idleb and northern Aleppo.
On 3 May 2021, an explosion was reported near Nadi Alfurusiah IDP camp in northern Idleb, resulting in civilian deaths and damaging approximately 50 tents. Moreover, the Islamic State continued its attacks across Deir-ez-zor, southern Al-Hasakeh, and the desert areas of Homs and Hama.

• In order to address the immense humanitarian needs in Syria, WFP delivered general food assistance to approximately 4.7 million people countrywide during May 2021. Ahead of the 10 July 2021 expiration of the Security Council resolution authorizing the cross-border operation in northwest Syria, WFP completed pre-positioning of food supplies sufficient for July and most of August 2021.

Sources: OCHA Statement | Syria May 2021, COAR | Syria Update May 2021