HASAKAH, Syria (North Press) – About half a million residents in Syria’s predominantly Kurdish northeastern province of Hasakah suffer from drought and live below the poverty line, officials and experts said on Monday.
Footage from North Press on Monday showed that shopping in the once-crowded market of Filistin in the city of Hasakah has decreased significantly in the past four months after the Syrian currency crash, which fell from 500 SYP/1USD in January to 3000 SYP/1USD recently.
U.S. sanctions, known as Caesar Act, took effect two weeks ago, marking the start of a sustained campaign of economic and political pressure on President Bashar Assad to stop the war in Syria and agree to a political solution.
Northeastern Syria is controlled by the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), who have helped the U.S.-led coalition fight Islamic State, driving the jihadists out of swaths of Syrian territory.
Despite the U.S. promises to exempt northeastern Syria from the Caesar Act, people and Kurdish officials said their areas have been heavily affected by the sanctions.
Dealers of second-hand clothing in Hasakah said most people in the region no longer buy used clothes, though they are cheap.
“The daily income of most people does not exceed two US dollars after the Syrian currency collapse, and this amount can hardly make a decent meal for one person a day,” Ahmad Hassan, a second-hand clothing dealer in Hasakah, told North Press. “Buying new clothes has become a luxury for people of the region, and I know many new clothing traders who complain saying they have maximum two customers a week,” he said.
A food trader, Mohammad Ibrahim told North Press he had to close his store for a week because the exchange rate exceeded 3000 SYP per1USD.
“The prices have increased four or five fold, and this will be a big loss for me and the people,” he said. “No one can afford this.”
Kurdish officials also confirmed the US sanctions would have an impact on their area, which trades with government-held Syria via local merchants and uses the Syrian pound, which has plunged in value.
“[The sanctions] will lead to an increase in prices to a very great degree and to weakness in trade activity with the Syrian interior…on the other hand, crossings to Iraq are closed, meaning the region was already living under economic siege,” Badran Jia Kurd, vice president of the regional administration, said in an interview.
TURKEY CONTROLS WATER SUPPLY TO HASAKAH
About half a million residents in the city of Hasakah and its countryside have been suffering from a potable water shortage, as Turkey controls the Alouk reservoir near its border.
Alouk Water Station is near the border town of Sere Kaniye, which Turkey and its militant proxies took over in October 2019 during Turkey's so-called Peace Spring Operation, allegedly against the Kurdish-led SDF.
People in the city of Hasakah have been buying water from tanks since January, as the Turkish authorities cut the water supply several times in the past six months.
“I buy about 1500 liters of water every week for about 4,000 SYP, so I spend about 25% of my monthly salary on water,” Mustafa Ismail, a teacher from Hasakah, told North Press.
“Drought and poverty are two new weapons threatening the lives of people, more than what war has done in the last nine years,” he said.
In March, UNICEF Representative in Syria Fran Equiza said water from the Alouk water station has been interrupted again, putting 460,000 people at risk in northeast Syria.
Equiza underlined that the station is the main source of water for around 460,000 people in and around Hasakah city and Tel Tamr, including in the densely packed camps for displaced families.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) also said in a report released in March, “Turkish authorities’ failure to ensure adequate water supplies to Kurdish-held areas in Northeast Syria is compromising humanitarian agencies’ ability to prepare and protect vulnerable communities in the COVID-19 pandemic.”
The water station, located in the eastern countryside of the city of Sere Kaniye (Ras al-Ain), is the major source of water used by residents in multiple surrounding areas, including Hasakah, Tal Tamr, and both the Hol and Arishah displacement camps.
Turkish-backed groups have repeatedly cut off the supply since the start of the year, expelling workers from the station as leverage to demand that Kurdish-led local authorities in northeast Syria provide increased electricity to areas under their control before allowing the water to flow again.
Earlier this week, Turkish authorities and their affiliated armed opposition groups cut off water from the Alouk reservoir for the seventh time since January.
(Additional reporting by Delsoz Youssef from Hasakah; Editing by Lucas Chapman)