By Sinam Sherkany Mohamad

Sinam Sherkany Mohamad is the Co-Chief of the US Mission of the Syrian Democratic Council. She is a Kurdish woman from Afrin, Syria.

North and East Syria has been known as the breadbasket for all Syria, but we are now seeing wheat failures in the region. 

Turkish occupation of a key water station is depriving people and farm fields of the water needed for life, and humanitarian aid cannot reach the people due to Russian pressure to close necessary border crossings. Furthermore, economic factors, such as the Caesar sanctions on Syria imposed by the United States, has caused our economy to collapse. The economic collapse means that our region simply cannot import food and water to cover the shortages.

This catastrophe was not inevitable. Despite the Syrian civil uprising, the North and East region of Syria had remained stable until early 2018, when Turkey decided to take advantage of the confusion of war and invade our previously-peaceful region. Once the Syrian government’s grip on our region had loosened, we were developing a democratic governance model, the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria, based on human rights, equality, women’s rights, decentralization, multiethnicity, and religious freedom. We were organized such that we were able to ally with the United States to drive ISIS out of our region. Turkey’s invasions were in response to the promising democratic model that we were building.

Today’s massive food shortages are a direct result of Turkey’s military occupation. The military invasion and occupation of October 2019 spurred the occupation of the Alouk water station, which serves roughly one million people and a vast region to the south and east of the station.

Once the water station had been captured, Turkish-backed militants with the so-called “Syrian National Army” began depriving the region of water. They have dramatically reduced the water flow, and they have turned the water off entirely for petty political reasons, leaving one million people, including children, without water at all. 

In an average year, our region produces 600,000 tonnes of wheat. This year, we are already seeing yields that are less than half that amount.

In addition, Turkey has been reducing the flow of the Euphrates River, making it impossible for farmers downriver to water their fields. We must pressure Turkey not to use water deprivation as a weapon of war. 

Children have been dying from drinking polluted water, desperate to quench their thirst in the summer heat that is reaching over 45 degrees Celsius — 113 degrees Fahrenheit. Lower-than-average rainfall has made the situation even worse. The people cannot even collect enough rainwater to drink, as their ancestors may have long ago.

When everyday people do not even have water to drink, farmers do not have water for their fields. Wheat crops are failing. In an average year, our region produces 600,000 tonnes of wheat. This year, we are already seeing yields that are less than half that amount.

Humanitarian aid organizations might want to provide food assistance to our region. However, Russia has ensured that our main United Nations border, the al-Yaroubiah border, has remained closed. Russian officials want to ensure that their allies, the Syrian government, retain control of the supplies passing into Syria, so they have vetoed the renewals on vital border crossings by the UN Security Council. They have cut off our lifeline.

Under better circumstances, the administration of our region would purchase grain and water to fulfill the needs of our people. But our economy has crashed, due mostly to the Caesar sanctions imposed on Syria after the “Caesar Act” passed US Congress. US officials intended for the sanctions to exert pressure on the government of Bashar al Assad. But for our region, the sanctions have backfired, making it nearly impossible for us to get any supplies into the region — whether we purchase them or whether an organization wishes to donate them. Our currency has dropped 750 percent since the latter half of 2019, due in large part to the Caesar sanctions. We cannot simply purchase grain for our people from neighboring countries.

The result of all of these actions committed by other countries is that our people are going hungry and thirsty.

If the international community wishes to save the lives of our people and end these injustices, they should: pressure Turkey to set a timetable for withdrawal of its forces from its region and cease its support for the militias of the so-called “Syrian National Army;” call upon Russia to vote in favor of re-opening the al-Yaroubiah UN border crossing into Syria; pressure US officials to enact an exemption to the Caesar sanctions for North and East Syria; facilitate humanitarian aid flows into our region, and; officially recognize North and East Syria as a necessary part of the solution to the Syrian crisis.

In order to keep our region as a breadbasket for the Syrian people, we call upon the international community to act to end the humanitarian catastrophe unfolding in our region.