Rehabilitation of Roman and Arab wells improves livelihoods in the North-Eastern Syrian plains

Rehabilitation of Roman and Arab wells improves livelihoods in the North-Eastern Syrian plains


Historical solutions to modern problems


On the barren landscape of the North-Eastern Syrian plains, a splash of bright blue catches the eye. It is not the flowing waters of the mighty Euphrates, but a symbol of the water that lies below the surface of this harsh terrain. Local Bedouin and their livestock gather around a rehabilitated and brightly repainted ancient Roman well, once again serving the purpose for which it was constructed some 2000 years ago.

Water scarcity is one of the most pressing issues facing the world today, particularly in the Middle East where populations are expanding and fresh water supplies are fast diminishing. In the North East of Syria, the country’s poorest region, water shortages have been exacerbated by a three-year drought which has been particularly painful for the country’s rural poor, and has prompted substantial internal population displacement. This environmental pressure has dire consequences not only for the economic well-being of poor households, but also for the preservation of traditional ways of life.

In partnership with the Government of Syria and the Spanish Agency for International Development Cooperation US$ 129,366, UNDP and the UN Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) US$ 200,000, have made use of the region’s history to tackle this modern-day problem. Beginning in 2009, project partners undertook the rehabilitation of Roman and Arab wells that lie scattered across the long-inhabited countryside. Ninety-five wells were surveyed and to date, thirty-five wells either have been or are currently being rehabilitated, with an estimated 18,000 beneficiaries (not including livestock).

The rehabilitation process involves cleaning and pumping out stagnant water, widening and deepening the wells to increase their water capacity, analyzing the quality of water before usage, and finally handing the wells over to the local authorities and communities.

The socio-economic impact of the rehabilitation of the wells cannot be underestimated. The purchase of water from private truck-tankers, costing 2000 SYP/month (approximately $40 USD), was a heavy financial burden for the poor that has now been lifted for those living in the vicinity of a renovated well.  For those who could not afford to buy their water in the first place, these wells provide access to safe drinking water and undoubtedly an improved quality of life. These wells also contribute to sustainable and environmentally-friendly local development, and reduce the pressure on rural residents to migrate to urban centers, a move that can have devastating social and economic impacts.

As water becomes increasingly scarce in the future, projects such as this one can serve as an example of an innovative approach to water resource management. By making use of North Eastern Syria’s existing assets – ancient Roman and Arab wells – to solve the problem of access to safe drinking water, the region’s history has contributed to solving its contemporary problems.

Benefits of this project are even reaching residents who remain in the comfort of their own homes. In the governorate of Hasakeh, where two wells near the villages of Aliah and al-Jamouh were restored, plans to direct drinking water from the wells into the houses of nearby residents are already under way. The prospect of an unprecedented residential water delivery system was only made possible by the recent restoration of the wells, and represents another direct impact of UNDP and CERF efforts to improve the livelihoods of the country’s rural populations.

The successful implementation and the positive impact on the beneficiaries encouraged private sector to share in this initiative. As a result, TOTAL will pay 30,000 to rehabilitate 3 wells and DZ Chamber of Commerce and Industry will contribute by US$ 48,880 to rehabilitate 6 wells