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At a glance: Syrian Arab Republic

UNICEF and the Embassy of Denmark launch refurbished water plant in drought affected central Syria

© UNICEF/SYR09297/Razan Rashidi
Isam, a 4th grader, drinks water in Ismail Salibi School, which has benefited from the water project.

SALAMIEH, Syria, 2 December 2009 – Syria is experiencing a severe drought that is jeopardizing the livelihoods of thousands of families. After a second straight year of poor rainfall, this country in the heart of the fertile crescent is, in places, becoming barren.

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The supply of potable water is also dwindling, particularly in regions that rely on well water.

In response, the UN has issued a drought appeal for about $53 million to address the urgency of the situation.

New water plant in Salamieh

In Salamieh, in the central governorate of Hama, residents once depended on water from the Al Assi River processed through the 1960s-era Al Qantara Hydrostation. They now depend on local wells. As a result of the drought and climate change, well water is now only available at depths of 600 meters. Water from these wells, however, contains contaminants that make it unsafe for drinking.

© UNICEF/SYR09207/Razan Rashidi
Ambassador of Denmark Christina Markus Lassen (front) and UNICEF Representative Sherazade Boualia (back) tour the reverse osmosis unit of the Al Qantara Hydrostation in Salamieh, Syria.

To address the problem, Al Qantara Hydrostation has been refurbished with a reverse osmosis unit. The project is the result of a collaboration between the Ministry of Housing, the Directorate of Drinking Water and Sanitation, and the Hama Governorate–with additional funding from UNICEF, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) and the Embassy of Denmark.

At the opening launch of the plant last month, Danish Ambassador Christina Markus Lassen praised the speed with which the project was completed.

"I am sure the speed and effectiveness of the process have been due to a motivated group of people all striving for the same purpose–the alleviation of drought-impact on the local population," she said.

Benefits for all

Joining the ambassador at the launch, and for a tour of the plant, was the Syrian Minister of Housing, Omar Ghalawanji; the Governor of Hama, Abdul Razak Al Qutaini; the Head of the Directorate of Drinking Water and Sanitation of Syria, Mohammad Al Shahoud; and UNICEF Representative in Syria Sherazade Boualia.

After the ceremony the delegation visited the local Ismail Salibi School, where there had been no water supply at all until the plant became operational.

"Now that the plant is almost fully working, water is available for the drinking and also for the cleaning and use in the toilets, which basically reduces the stress that the students and the teachers had when there was a lack of water," said Ms. Boualia.

Approximately 120,000 residents will benefit from the new plant.

Challenges of climate change

Outside of Salamieh, the situation is still critical for farmers and livestock.

Crops have failed and the planting season is drawing to a close with many farmers in need of seeds and feed for their animals. In some areas, the drought is seen as the worst climatic event in 40 years, and believed to be caused largely by climate change.

Ambassador Lassen noted that Syria is not alone in coping with climate change.

"Only by cooperation and participation by all countries in the world will we reach a common solution to these urgent challenges," she said. "That is why Denmark is hoping for a crucial agreement next month at the climate summit in Copenhagen."




UNICEF correspondent Elizabeth Kiem reports on the opening of the refurbished Al Qantara water plant.
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