Open Letter to the Secretary-General of the United Nations

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Al Kwatli D.M. Amer
PhD, Geosciences
Resources & Peace Initiative
António Guterres, Secretary-General, United Nations
First Avenue and East 44th Street, New York, New York, U.S.A.

Mr. Secretary-General:
At Damascus, 29 December 2016 The U.N.’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said: “The United Nations is alarmed that four million inhabitants in Damascus and surrounding areas have been cut off from the main water supply since 22 December. Two primary sources of drinking water- Wadi Barada and Ain-el-Fijah-which provide clean and safe water for 70 percent of the population in and around Damascus are not functioning, due to deliberate targeting resulting in the damaged infrastructure.”

“The UN is concerned about the lack of water which could lead to waterborne diseases, particularly among children, as well as the financial strain this is having on families. Throughout Syria, close to 15 million people are in need of water assistance and households spend up to 25 percent of their income to meet their daily water needs.”

“The United Nations calls on all parties to reach peaceful agreements to alleviate the suffering of civilians, and that basic services, essential for survival, such as water supply, must be safeguarded and protected at all times.”
It has been widely documented that: “Government forces have been bombing the area heavily for a week, though there was a lull on Thursday before the air strikes resumed.”

I the undersigned, qualified in Geosciences, wish to state that current scientific knowledge has not been taken into account in its entirety regarding the assessment of environmental impacts of senseless assault and civilian shelling at Wadi Barada. Risks and geo-hazards associated with air strikes and heavily bombing sensitive environment (Wadi Barada) were underestimated and its related impacts on a fragile water resource (Ain-el-Fijah) have been completely disregarded.

Based on scientific facts, evidences and considerations, I would like to bring to your attention that the circumstances in Damascus – Wadi Barada warn humanity of unprecedented “human-made environment catastrophe” due to the ruthless bombing from the air of civilians.

The key components of these facts are:
  •  Some environments in the world are fundamentally more vulnerable and sensitive than others, depending on their geological and hydrological particularities, biodiversity, climate and so forth.
  •  Ain-el-Fijah Spring and Wadi Barada lie in a geological environment so called “Anti-Lebanon Mountain” that play a vital role as source of water, not only locally but also in a wide regional context in the Levantine. Ain-el-Fijah Spring in Syria has been documented as the third largest spring in the world, after Krasny Kutch (Red Spring) in Bashkortostan, Russia and Silver Springs in Florida, USA.
  •  The hydrology and hydrogeology of Anti-Lebanon environment is highly complex. This control shared groundwater resources across political borders at zone extending from Damascus in the east to the Bekaa Plain in the west and from Homs plateau in the north to Mount Hermon, in the south. Moreover some springs and catchments contribute to the headwaters of the Jordan River.
  •  The principal resources of fresh groundwater in the region (Wadi Barada including Ain-el-Fijah spring) are mainly deeply faulted Jurassic and Cretaceous aquifers and characterized by hazardous karst phenomenon. The heavily fractured strata in the region are also bounded by complex tectonic setting, and under periodic seismic activities related to the propagation of Dead Sea transform faults system.
  •  The scientific community draws attention to the environmental fragility of karst settings and warns from the related widespread hazardous processes, and obviously recommends the decision-makers to take this issue into consideration. Therefore, Karst is recognized as one of the most fragile environment in the world due to the direct connection between the surface and the subsurface, together with its weak resistance to the natural or human-induced activities.
  • Vast geo-hazards in addition to enormous risks should be expected as consequences of bombing from the air a fragile environment (Wadi Barada). These could be summarized principally in two main mechanisms in terms of mechanical component and hydrogeological component, as following:

I. Surface and the subsurface karst are extremely vulnerable to mechanical deformation including successive collapses, collapse chimney, breakdown column, sinkholes, subsidence mechanism, bedrock sagging, caprock sagging that may reach hundreds of meters in length.
II. Underground karst waters extremely vulnerable to pollution which may occur very easily and quickly. Because of high secondary permeability of karst that enables underground water to be transferred very rapidly. Moreover, Karst has the ability of storing sediments and waters, including pollutants, which may be released during forthcoming flow events.

Based on the previous scientific facts and considerations, the main disaster could be described by unrecoverable loss of the natural landscape and water resources. This most likely could affect a large regional scale. Therefore Ain-el-Fijah spring and Wadi Barada should be recognize as a unique fragile environment (heavily karstified and deeply faulted carbonate rocks) where the actions performed at the ground, will have direct consequences underground, affecting landscapes, the aquifers, and the whole ecosystem; while the recovery of the initial situation is actually not possible.

  • Since years the scientific community draws attention to the fact that karst covers 20 % of the Earth’s surface and provides 20–25 % of the world’s drinking water; and at least 80% out of the demand of drinkable water in the Mediterranean Basin will be provided by karst aquifers before 2025 according FAO, (The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations).
  • Historic remains of a Roman aqueduct which brought water from Ain-el-Fijah spring to Damascus (one of the oldest continuously occupied cities in the world) are evidence about the significance of the human and natural heritage in the region.
  •  Based upon these considerations, Air strikes and bombing such fragile environment key concept to evaluate, not only the critical situation regarding water resources of Damascus and the future of the population of Syria, but also the potential threat in the whole region and grave consequences in terms of loss of natural water resources and landscape.

I turn to the United Nations with these considerations to highlight the urgent need of protecting civilians and water resource adequately from such anthropogenic factors that are going to trigger regional disaster; in the hope that they may contribute to find a realistic approach to avoid unprecedented “human-made environment catastrophe”. Air strikes and bombing can be sidestepped and building peace in the region is always possible therefore, UN intervention to protect civilians and their children, fragile landscape and water resources is a mandatory step to maintain, safeguard and transmit the extreme richness and diversity of the country to future generations.

Signed by:
Al Kwatli D.M. Amer, Ph.D. in Geosciences, Co-Founder of Resources & Peace

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