Revitalized Canals Bring a Glimmer of Hope to Farmers in Raqqa

June 26, 2024
©UNDP Syria - Osama Almhamd

In the heart of Raqqa, the fertile fields have long been the lifeline of its rural communities. For Ibrahim Al-Issa, a 40-year-old farmer from this region, the land is not just a means of livelihood; it is intertwined with his very identity. "The land is like honour," he often says, reflecting a deep-seated respect for the soil that nurtures his family and sustains his community.

Ibrahim's life has always revolved around agriculture. Owning 20 dunams of land, he managed to support his family of seven by growing various crops, including vegetables, wheat, and cotton. The produce from his land provided for his family's needs and contributed to the local market. "We were known for the finest fresh vegetables, especially tomatoes," he recalls with pride. “However, the war brought unprecedented challenges, turning our lives upside down”.

The conflict ravaged Raqqa, disrupting the vital irrigation systems that channelled water from the Euphrates River. The damage to these irrigation canals forced Ibrahim and other farmers to rely on artesian wells. "After we returned from displacement in 2019, I tried to farm again, but it was a struggle," Ibrahim explains. The water from the well was salty, causing soil salinity to rise and groundwater levels to drop. The costs of maintaining the wells and the scarcity of fuel further exacerbated the situation. "Our crops, particularly vegetables, suffered in quantity and quality," he adds.

Desperate to provide for his family, Ibrahim was forced to make a heart-wrenched decision. He left his beloved land and travelled for work to a place where he was a stranger. It was a difficult decision, but he saw no other way to survive. "Leaving my land felt like abandoning a part of myself," his voice filled with the pain of separation.

Hope arrived unexpectedly in the form of a phone call from his relatives. They informed him about a project by a United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) project to rehabilitate the damaged irrigation canals. "I could not believe it at first," Ibrahim admits. "The idea that irrigation from the Euphrates could return seemed like a dream". But the evidence was undeniable; a video showed the revitalized canals flowing with life-giving water, bringing a glimmer of hope to Ibrahim’s life.

Rehabilitation works

©UNDP Syria - Osama Almhamd

Ibrahim returned to his village within two days, ready to reclaim his land. "Seeing the water flow again was like seeing a treasure restored," he says with a smile. Funded by the Government of Japan, UNDP rehabilitated 2,320 metres of irrigation canals, covering an area of 9,157 square metres and revitalizing 63,000 hectares of agricultural land. This intervention has restored water access and reactivated the production cycle for about 21,000 families in the Raqqa countryside.

For Ibrahim, this project signifies more than just an agricultural revival; it is a personal and communal renaissance. "Now, I am working on planting, watering, and caring for my land so that it returns to what it was," he says passionately. "It is a part of me that I will not abandon".

Ibrahim is one of 500 farmers in Al-Jabali area who have witnessed a remarkable transformation in their agricultural practices and livelihoods. The return of irrigation water has enabled them to improve crop yields and sustain their families. "We have new hope and a renewed sense of purpose," Ibrahim states. The project, as part of UNDP's strategy to enhance livelihoods, is a testament to the resilience of Raqqa's farmers and the enduring spirit of their communities.

With the support of our partners, initiatives like these are crucial to enhancing resilience and fostering recovery efforts towards a sustainable future. For Ibrahim and many others, it means a chance to dream again and to see those dreams take root and flourish in the fields of Raqqa.