Syrian Arab Republic: Euphrates water crisis & drought outlook, as of 17 June 2021


Regional & Country Outlook

Since autumn 2020, unseasonably low levels of rainfall across the eastern region of the Mediterranean Basin, have contributed to drought conditions in Syria and Iraq. Given the country's semi-arid climate, the annual water balance is determined by precipitation patterns between October and April and pronounced seasonal rainfall, with deficits accumulated enduring for the remainder of the year. In Syria, poor precipitation during the 2020/2021 winter season, as well as the months critical for crop development (January-April), have negatively impacted several governorates in the northeast, with Al-Hasakeh – typically the breadbasket of the country – particularly badly affected.

Converging Crisis & Impact

At the same time, water flows into the Euphrates River from Turkey – which has also experienced several seasons of poor rain – have progressively reduced over the past six months, falling from 500m3 per second in January to 214m3 per second in June. As a consequence, the hydroelectric potential of the Tishreen and Tabqa Dams, two of the most significant reservoirs in Syria, have significantly diminished, leading to reduced energy production capacity which have resulted in power blackouts across northeastern Syria, and limited electricity to 1-2 hours a day in some locations. This, in turn, and compounded by ongoing fuel shortages, has led to reduced operation of vital water pumping stations, which have impacted available drinking water across Al-Hasakeh, Ar-Raqqa, Deir-ez-Zor and Aleppo governorates. Currently, 54 of 73 water stations along the western bank of the Euphrates are significantly or severely impacted by critically low water levels. Water shortages pose a significant threat to agricultural production and food security, with informal crop forecasts for 2021 indicating a possible drop in barley production to 1.2 million tonnes – as low as in 2018. Contaminated water also poses severe public health risks, with the Early Warning, Alert and Response System (EWARS) detecting a substantial increase in the number of acute diarrhea cases recorded in the northeast in May 2021 (17,166) compared to the same month in 2020 (7,355).

Risk Forecast

Syria currently ranks seventh on a global risk index of 191 countries most at risk of a humanitarian or natural disaster event that could overwhelm response capacity, in part due to the ongoing crisis which hinders adequate preparedness measures. With temperatures in the Mediterranean basin predicted to increase in the coming years, and water scarcity expected to persist, extreme climatic events such as drought are likely to become more frequent and intense. Of the nine countries rated as ‘very high risk’, Syria is the third highest at risk of drought.


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