Prior to the conflict, 95% and 89% of urban and rural households respectively were connected to the public water supply system. This did not however prevent from shortages nor assure access to safe water. According to data from the Ministry of water resources, in 2010 the availability of drinking water per capita in most rural areas in the Orontes basin ranged from 50 to 75 liter per day (l/d). The quality of drinking water was poorly reported. Data from the Ministry of Public Heath, for the country as a whole, indicate that in 2006, out of 8610 samples 6% were contaminated with coliforms. The rate of contamination was probably higher in the Orontes basin because of the lack of treatment plants and the high level of pollution.
The public water supply system in the Orontes basin comprises about 1500 wells equipped with electric pumps and two main pipe networks supplying the main cities. Groundwater is the main source of drinking water. Wells are used to feed small rural networks generally at the village level - one exception being the Al luji network which supplies 39 villages from one main pumping station. The Homs pipe network is fed by the Ain Altanour and Alsamak springs located on the west bank of the Orontes River close to the Lebanese border. The Hama-Salamiyah pipe network supplies the two cities plus Al Qusayr, Qatinah, Ar Rastan and to 65 villages along the network. The latter is fed from an intake on the Orontes River close to Umeiry. Water is treated in a purification plant 11 km south of Al Qusayr.
Access to safe drinking water is currently critical in large parts of the Orontes basin which has led to a sharp increase in waterborne diseases. For over 50% of the population living in the basin, safe water supply per capita is less than the 20 l/d defined by the World Health Organization as the short term survival requirement in emergencies (WHO 2013). Power cuts and damage to pumping stations are the main causes of drinking water shortages. Public water networks in rural areas are dependent on power supply which is severely affected by the conflict. Areas under the control of pro-regime forces are however generally better served than those under the control of opposition forces.
At the time of writing, the two pipe networks are functional. The Homs pipe network has so far suffered no major damage The Hama – Salamyah water pipe was damaged on January 26, 2014, north-west of Al Wa`r, and repaired within 3 weeks. However, the supply of besieged villages north of Homs is intentionally cut. Water supply was also interrupted in several neighborhoods of Homs; Bab Alsebaa, Qarabes, Qosour, khaldieh, Hamedieh, Dairbaalbeh, Ashereh, Nazhen, Jub aljandaly, Jurat ash Shayyah and in the old city.
In most rural areas where the availability of drinking water per capita is reported to be less than 10l/d, public networks are out of function as a result of the destruction of pumps, particularly in areas north of Hama, or due to permanent power cuts. In certain areas, water of unknown quality is supplied in limited quantities by mobile tankers, which can cost as much as SL 5000 / m3. The Qalamoun region is one such case. The reported availability of drinking water does not necessarily reflect the situation of displaced people who have settled in isolated shelters with no connection to the public water network.