Syria announces £2bn irrigation project in middle of a warzone

Despite being embroiled in a three-year civil war, the government of Syria has handed out a $2bn contract for irrigation works to Russian contractor Stroytransgaz.

According to Sana, the official Syrian news agency, the work will involve installing irrigation infrastructure in the north-east of Syria and diverting water from the Tigris River to the north-eastern governorate of Al-Hasakah, near the Turkish and Iraqi border. 

The first stage of the project is the construction of a pumping station near the town of Ein Diwar, near Syria’s border with Turkey and Iraq; this is expected to cost $264m.

Al-Hasakah is surrounded on three sides by land controlled by Islamic State of Iraq and is presently the scene of intermittent but heavy fighting

Bassam Hanna, the minister of water resources, told journalists that the total cost of the project could reach $2bn. When complete, it will use 1.25 billion cubic meters of Tigris water to irrigate 200,000 hectares of land, it said. It will also provide 125 million cubic meters of potable water a year. 

Speaking to journalists, Hanna said that the project fell under President Bashar Assad’s directives to improve the living conditions of citizens, and said it would alter the agricultural landscape in north-east Syria.

Ahmad al-Kadri, the minister of agriculture, said the project ranked among the most significant developments in a region that primarily depended on the rain for irrigation.

The chargé d’affaires of the Russian embassy in Damascus told journalists that the project would ensure more opportunities to the residents of the eastern area to develop agriculture. No date was given for the completion of the project.

What was not explained was how Stroytransgaz’s workers would be able to undertake the scheme in what is presently a warzone. 

The Syrian government controls a strip of land along the western edge of the country and an enclave in Al-Hasakah, which it shares with the Kurds to the north. It is, however, surrounded on three sides by land controlled by Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, and is presently the scene of intermittent but heavy fighting between regime forces and the Kurds on the one hand, and on the other members of the Free Syrian Army that have taken part of the centre of Al-Hasakah town.

The scheme was originally to have begun in March 2011, shortly before the war broke out. The irrigation was seen is vital to the area, which is home the country’s oil, gas, wheat and cotton industries, and which has been hit by droughts over the past few years. 

Syria and Turkey set the first stone for a dam capable of storing 115 million cubic meters of water on the Orontes River on February 2011.

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