Prior to the conflict the Orontes basin contributed about 25% of the total agricultural production in Syria. Over 50% of the crop production was grown on around 295,000 hectares of land irrigated from surface and/or ground water resources. The basin comprises 6 state managed irrigation schemes making up a total of 134,590 hectares. (Table 1).
Table 1: Irrigation schemes
|Irrigation schemes||Area (Hectare)||Main productions|
|Al Qusayr||6,800||Apricot trees, apple trees, vegetables|
|Homs - Hama||20,190||Wheat, sesame, vegetables|
|Al Hulah||2,200||Wheat, potatoes, vegetables|
|Al Asharinah & Al Ghab||65,568||Wheat, cotton, sugar beet, groundnuts, vegetables, sesame, potatoes, vegetables|
|Ar Ruj||15,500||Wheat, cotton, sugar beet, sesame, potatoes, vegetables|
|Afrin||24,900||Apricot trees, pomegranate, vegetables|
Irrigation from groundwater expanded substantially in the past thirty years in particular in the district of Qusayr and east of the city of Homs. Close to 60% of water withdrawn for irrigation came from groundwater resources.
Crop production in the Orontes basin was reduced by over 70%, due to the sharp decline in irrigated areas. To a lesser extent, production decreased because of the reduction in cultivated areas and in the yields of rainfed crops. Irrigated areas shrunk more than half in the entire basin. The six major irrigation schemes, which used to provide more than half the production of the basin, have been strongly affected by the total or partial interruption of the water-supply. Part of the water infrastructure was destroyed during the fighting by bombing and passage of military vehicles, but the water-supply has often been deliberately cut by disconnecting the supply to the channels and by plugging wells. Access to irrigation water is as strategic as the drinking water supply for territorial control.
Supply in the district of Al Qusayr was interrupted in 2011, following the obstruction of springs and cutting the supply of the main channel. Part of the secondary channels was damaged by fighting in 2013. In addition, out of 6,342 agricultural wells, 2,620 were plugged. Half the pumps and motors were looted. In the largest part of the Al Qusayr district, 20,500 hectares of irrigated land have been dried off and are no longer cultivated, since nearly entire populations of 23 cities and villages have been expelled. As many as 5,565 pumping facilities, out of the 11,460 recorded in the area, were destroyed or looted.
The Homs irrigation schemes, was abandoned in 2012. The latter scheme is fed by the Qattinah water reservoir whose main channel was destroyed, upstream of Homs. Almost all secondary channels were heavily damaged by bombing and are no longer usable.
The outskirts of the city of Hama have been relatively untouched by fighting. Damage to water systems is limited. The irrigated area has however dropped by over 60%. The land north of the city in the districts of Kafr Zaytah, Kurnaz and Qal `at al Madiq is irrigated from groundwater and has now dried up due to the lack of fuel and electricity to power the pumps. In addition, 6,500 hectares in the Kafr Buhum and Harbinafsah districts, used to be irrigated by the public network. The latter is not damaged, but there is no water supply due to the destruction of the Qattinah main channel. The greatest damage is in the area of Murk - Kafr Nabudah – Halfaya, where 42% of wells were plugged and 71% of pumps were destroyed or looted.
The decline in irrigated areas in the Acharne and Al Ghab plains can be explained by the fall in the level of the Apamea and Qastun reservoirs, which are currently at the minimum threshold level required to supply irrigation canals. The water volume flowing in the Al Ghab plain network fell from an annual average of 500 million m3 in 2010-2011 down to 70 million m3 in 2012-2013. In the north-western part of the Al Ghab plain, which is supplied by the Jurin spring, most of the land is still irrigated.
The Ar Ruj area in the province of Idlib is irrigated from groundwater. Pumping stations were damaged and the 15,000 hectares perimeter was completely dried up. About 13,000 hectares of formerly irrigated land are currently used for the production of rainfed wheat and barley. Almost 2,000 hectares located near a military base are inaccessible. The irrigation network supplying 30,000 hectares located in the Afrin district is almost out of service due to the lack of fuel for pumping stations. These lands are currently used for the production of rainfed crops.
The main rainfed cropping areas are located at the periphery of the basin to the east and north in areas relatively untouched by the fighting. Production has declined by 20% to 30% due to the lack of fuel, fertilizers, seeds prices which have drastically increased. Furthermore, farmers are faced with the risk of crop destruction, by fire especially, and of losing access to their fields at harvest time.
Before the conflict, the Orontes basin was one of the prime tree production regions in Syria, with 471'00 hectares of orchards, mainly olive groves. It also accounted for a large part of the livestock production. In early 2014, the state of orchards was assessed in 112 villages in the provinces of Idlib, Homs and Hama. Nearly 15% of 26,000 hectares of orchards have been destroyed. These surfaces were burned accidentally or intentionally or cut for military reasons or for collecting firewood, whose price has tripled over the past three years. Furthermore, 40% of surfaces are no longer accessible, mainly in the districts of Al Qusayr, Ar Rastan and An Nayrab.
Damage to cattle and sheep were evaluated in the villages of the Orontes basin located in the provinces of Idlib and Homs. Cattle herds were depleted by 90% and 60%, the number of sheep dropped by 60% and 40% respectively in the provinces of Idlib and Homs.
The effects of the conflict on poultry production have been partially assessed in the province of Idlib. The production capacity was reduced by 60% between 2010 and 2013. Out of a total of 206 production units in 2010, 122 were no longer in business in 2013, due to the total or partial destruction of buildings and production equipment and/or because of the lack of food supply.
Figure 1: Summer irrigation, district of Al Qusayr, 2010 - 2013
Figure 2: Summer irrigation Ar Ruj scheme, 2010 - 2013