Syrian protesters hit the streets in mid-January in the al-Hasakeh region of northeast Syria around repeated water shortages caused by outages at the Allouk pumping station, with hundreds of demonstrators blaming Turkish occupying forces for repeated water shutoffs.
Local media outlets describe Turkish forces stopping operations mid-January at Allouk, the only source of drinking water to approximately one million people. The station had only resumed operation on 17 December following weeks of shutdown.
Protesters held banners and chanted slogans demanding access to drinking water be restored.
Speaking to Deutsche Welle (DW), Syria researcher at Human Rights Watch, Sara Kayyali, described it as a “humanitarian disaster”.
The Allouk pumping station fell under the control of Turkish forces and affiliated Syrian rebels in October 2019. "Since then, a cornerstone of humanitarian capabilities has been repeatedly cut off, and water outages create ramifications across the entire population," continued Kayyali.
Turkey denies responsibility, claiming that the approximately 20 outages to occur in that time have been due to technical issues, insisting that the station has been under maintenance and subject to electricity cuts from a dam not under Turkish control, according to political analyst Guney Yildiz from the Centre for Applied Turkey Studies and the German Institute for International and Security Affairs, also quoted in the DW article.
"On the other hand, Turkey openly declares its intention (in Turkish media) to eradicate the administrations set up in northeast Syria and is most probably willing to use various means to accomplish that. Destabilizing the region is part of that strategy," Yildiz added.
In the absence of pumped water from Allouk, the population of al-Hasakeh, which includes three large displacement camps, relies on a patchy and expensive supply of trucked-in water. The severity of the situation is further aggravated by the heightened hygiene needs of the COVID-19 pandemic.
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet has previously urged Turkey to launch an immediate independent investigation into violations and abuses committed in the region controlled by its forces.