Idlib farmers dig thousands of makeshift wells, ‘depleting ground water supplies’

Idlib’s water network is now off. The rebel-controlled northwestern province is cut off from the government’s water grid, and in the dozens of small towns and farming villages that dot Idlib, local water supply networks have been bombed out of service.

A handful of international aid organizations are funding water pumps and municipal wells that provide heavily rationed water to the provincial capital and some areas of the countryside. In Idlib city, the water rationing means each neighborhood only receives four hours of running water every 10 days, Syria Direct reported last week.

But in the villages and farmland that aren’t receiving any sort of regular water service, residents and farmers are now building their own, unregistered wells.

The hastily dug wells aren’t built to code, and “can reach a depth of more than 300 meters,” says the director of Idlib province’s opposition-run water authority, Asaad Abu Zeid. The wells “deplete ground and surface water.”

Idlib’s opposition authorities can do little to halt construction of the wells, Abu Zeid tells Syria Direct’s Noura Hourani. He estimates that 8,000 unregistered wells are now spread across rural Idlib.

“Farmers are fending for themselves.”

Q: Rural Idlib province is heavily reliant on agriculture. In areas that aren’t receiving water, what does the lack of irrigation mean for farmers?

The most important area for farming in Idlib province is the a-Rouj Plain, which is the breadbasket of Idlib.

This area is the largest and most important, but it doesn’t have sufficient irrigation water for farming fruits, vegetables, wheat and barley.

This has had a huge effect on civilians because the prices of fruits and vegetables have risen noticeably. Vegetables and fruit need irrigation every 10 days.

Now farmers are fending for themselves and digging unregistered wells.

 Operating an unregistered well in rural Idlib on May 19. Photo courtesy of SMART News.

Q: Can you talk more about these unregistered wells?

The wells are dug by people who are not specialized in this field. The methods they use are not appropriate and do not conform to code. The wells can reach to a depth of more than 300 meters, which depletes ground and surface water.

Q: Can anything be done to curb the digging of these wells? Do alternate solutions exist rather than digging unsafe wells?

Before the revolution, the state forbade the digging of these wells, and none were built except under the government’s supervision.

Unfortunately, now there are no restraints, laws or any supervision with regard to well digging, and all the farmers have started to construct their own private wells on their land. They use [the wells] to irrigate their farmland and sell some of the water to others.

The solution is to work on other ways to provide residents with enough [water] to irrigate their farmland so that they can gradually stop building wells.

There is no organization to assist with irrigating farmland, which is pushing farmers to build wells to unilaterally save their crops and their land.

Noura Hourani

Noura Hourani studied English Literature at Tishreen University and previously worked as a private English tutor. She left Syria at the beginning of the conflict.

Madeline Edwards

Madeline Edwards graduated from the College of Charleston with a bachelor’s degree in International Studies and Political Science in 2016. She was a Critical Language Scholarship (CLS) recipient in Arabic in 2013. Her studies have brought her to Jordan, Palestine and Turkey.