Water: A Weapon and a Victim


Throughout the recent conflicts in Iraq and Syria, water has been used as armament by competing powers as they scramble to control a quickly diminishing resource.

When ISIS seized the Fallujah Barrage, a dam on the Euphrates River, in 2014, they used it as leverage by depriving downstream cities of water. Later, they released water from the dam in an attempt to flood approaching Iraqi forces. Water has become a powerful tool of war.

According to Sanjay Wijesekera, chief of water, sanitation, and hygiene, and associate director of programs at UNICEF, Syria experienced 30 intentional water cuts in 2016—in Aleppo, Damascus, Hama, Raqqa, and Dara. In many cases, he explains, pumps were destroyed and water sources deliberately contaminated.

“As a result of violence, the flow of water from the Wadi Barada and Fijeh Springs in Damascus, which supply 70% of water to the city was interrupted,” wrote Wijesekera. “As a result, an estimated 5.5 million Syrians in Damascus and rural Damascus . . . are living without access to running water.”

People, however, aren’t the only victims of the war, explains Nabil Musa. The environment has suffered devastating impacts too. Musa has been traveling by paddleboard throughout the Kurdistan region of Iraq for the past seven years to promote the protection of rivers, streams, and waterways. He has seen first-hand, the effects of decades of war, pollution, development, and damming on the bodies of water in his homeland.

“That river used to be swimmable, drinkable, fishable,” he says in a powerful film by Emily Kinskey. “I’m a witness of that. No longer can you do any of those. If a drop of that water goes into your kid’s mouth, no way they can survive.”

His journey to ensure clean water for future generations is inspiring. We’re pleased to share the film with you here.


  • Rick Laughlin, APLD.

    Hi Emily Kinskey, I am appalled at all of the destrucitiion that war has brought upon your country…and your efforts WILL eventually reverse the raging tides of war and destruction!

  • Richard W Goodwin.

    Energy, like water, has significance in establishing a nation’s foreign policy.
    Horizontal drilling and Hydraulic Fracturing has unleashed significant Shale Gas and Oil – available for domestic use and foreign export. The export of USA shale oil and gas affects countries whose alliance USA has pursued e.g. Saudi Arabia and Russia. Using our surplus shale oil and gas as leveraging tools enables USA to negotiate favorable policies with these countries – reducing support for Syria’s current governing regime and funding of Muslim extremists by disapproving Qatar.
    Richard W Goodwin West Palm Beach FL 8/17/17

  • Dr Edo McGowan.

    I first got back from my contract work as a USAID Foreign Service Reserve Officer in the mid 1990s I had been covering the environmental issues of 22 nations in Africa. My first slot was a short gig with ABC-Clio here in Santa Barbara. This was reviewing environmental documentaries, the essence of which review went into a periodically produced catalogue for libraries. I received numerous videos from all over the globe. In the eastern-block countries, bureaucratically mandated industrial production had chugged out such levels of pollution that school children needed respiratory therapy at least twice a day to continue in school. The ground water was so contaminated that it could not be used, yet there were few alternatives. USAID was brought in to attempt remediation of this vast area. There were no longer any trees left in this polluted land. To give school children some idea of what a tree was, because they had never seen one, teachers cut silhouettes out of old cardboard boxes, painted them and attached them to classroom walls.

    Videos from South America followed similar lines, polluted by industry with serious human health implications. Interestingly, here in the U.S. we dump our sewage sludge onto farmland, knowing that it contaminates for decades with pollutants and antibiotic resistant pathogens. This waste (biosolids) runs off the land into rivers.

    There is a certain absorptive capacity to many areas that become sinks for dumping pollution. That offers polluters an opportunity to offset some costs and its value can be estimated. But once exceeded, the costs are not likely to be linear. To get some idea of the value of that absorptive capacity, calculate the cost to clean an otherwise functionally clean river back to its pristine condition.

    Dr Edo McGowan

    • Laura S.

      This is valuable global insight, Dr. McGowan. Thank you so much for sharing these perspectives.


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