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Syrian Arab Republic

Environment and health

Monitoring activities show that near all major settlements groundwater and surface water are polluted by municipal and industrial waste where the concentrations of biochemical oxygen demand (BOD), suspended solids (SS) and ammonia exceed Syrian standards, and groundwater in the basin also contains extremely high concentrations of pathogens, nitrates and agrochemicals. This situation occurs in many areas (MLAE, 2007):

  • Water pollution from sewage water is reported in the Barada River;
  • An increase in the amount of nitrates and ammonia ions has been noted in some drinking wells in the Damascus countryside (Ghouta), over the permitted level. In 2005 this led to a stop in the investment of more than 200 wells for drinking;
  • Uncontrolled discharge of industrial wastewater occurs on a large scale. The fertilizer and food processing industries contribute to the pollution load, but smaller and medium-sized industries such as tanneries also contribute and their impacts are even larger;
  • Drainage water from irrigated agriculture, containing excessive nutrients, pesticides and sometimes (in the case of irrigation with untreated wastewater) pathogens, reaches the rivers and groundwater;
  • In areas with heavy groundwater extraction, saltwater intrusion into the aquifer from the sea or other saline groundwater has occurred.

There is sufficient evidence to indicate that significant health impacts have been caused as a result of water pollution. The following cases have been reported:

  • Almost 900 000 cases of waterborne diseases were reported in 1996, and a significant number went unreported;
  • High rates of infantile diarrhoea, with fatality rates of up to 10 percent within some illegal housing areas not served by a drinking water network.

Compared to the period 1991–95, during the period 1995–2000 the rate of typhoid and hepatitis infections increased tenfold and that of diarrhoea doubled. Animals were also affected by several diseases, such as tapeworm and pulmonary tuberculosis and others, resulting from the use of untreated wastewater for fodder crop irrigation. The major factors favouring the development and dispersion of these diseases can be summarized as follows (DIWU, 2001):

  • Scarcity of groundwater resources and the orientation toward the use of wastewater to meet the shortage;
  • Lack of infrastructure especially that related to wastewater treatment and disposal, i.e. random disposal without treatment most of the time;
  • Lack of health awareness and proper handling of polluted water;
  • Non-existence or lack of adoption of regulations related to the protection of the environment and public health.

The cost of environmental degradation in the Syrian Arab Republic was estimated in 2004 by the Mediterranean Environmental Technical Assistance Program (METAP)/World Bank to be 2.6–4.1 percent of GDP annually, based on the 2001 figures, with a mean estimate of around US$600 million/year. Estimated costs of damage are organized by environmental category. The cost of diarrhoea illness and mortality follows at an estimated 0.6–0.7 percent of GDP, caused by a lack of access to safe potable water and sanitation, and inadequate domestic, personal and food hygiene, while the total cost of water resource degradation, and inadequate potable water, sanitation and hygiene is estimated at 0.7–1.0 percent of GDP (MLAE, 2007).


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