» Syria & Environmental Issues

Environmental Affairs in Syria

Dr.Eng. Abdulrzzak Alturkmani

Most efforts at developing national capacity in environmental affairs are donor-funded, as are many of the efforts at environmental remediation. The World Bank, UNDP, and the EU’s Mediterranean environment technical assistance program (METAP) are the key donors in this sector. Opportunities also exist in clean technology for new industries. Syria is slowly developing the organizational capacity to address its environmental problems. Its system is hierarchical, with the higher council of the environment (HCE) supervising the ministry of state for the environment, which in turn guides the general environmental directorates in each of the seven water basins and the local environmental committees in each of the 14 governorates. However, this institutional structure is still evolving and has not yet become effective at implementing environmental policy or enforcing environmental law.

  Syria’s past pattern has been for the state to control heavy industry, unencumbered by environmental restrictions. This is changing slowly, with donor assistance, both to lessen the pervasive presence of the state in the economy, and to sensitize remaining state industries to the importance of environmental considerations. Industrial pollution is a problem cutting across virtually all of Syrian industry. Homs is the most polluted city industrially, with its refinery and several fertilizer factories. Another refinery is located at Banias and a third is being planned, although execution appears unlikely in the near term. Three quarters of the existing thermal power stations burn fuel oil with a high sulfur content. New construction for power generation will rely more heavily on natural gas, although fuel oil is not being abandoned. The country’s six cement factories are polluters, as is the battery factory in Aleppo. Tanneries in Damascus and the textile industry based in Aleppo are sources of industrial water pollution. Prohibitive tariffs on imports mean that most vehicles are older, fuel-inefficient, and polluting.

   The government is beginning to introduce unleaded gasoline, however there are still no exhaust emission controls. Water As elsewhere in the Middle East, Syria faces problems of both quality and quantity of water. In Damascus, for example, a system designed for a population of one million is servicing a population of four million that is still growing at eight percent annually. To compensate for the excess demand, ground water sources are being exploited unsustainably. Until recently, wastewater treatment was virtually nonexistent, with sewage dumped untreated into surface water in many Syrian cities. In addition, Syria faces surface water sharing issues with all its neighbors that are either unresolved or only partly resolved. The most prominent of these is its dispute with Turkey over the flow of the Euphrates and, to a lesser extent, the Orontes and Tigris rivers. Some degree of controversy also applies in its sharing of the Yarmouk waters with Jordan and the Litani waters with Lebanon. Solid Waste collection and disposal is handled haphazardly, with above-ground dumping and open-air burning at unprepared sites. All paper is imported into Syria, and there is no recycling except to produce egg cartons. Domestic and industrial activities are modest on the Syrian coast, although its three oil terminals are occasional polluters. Land desertification is a serious problem, especially in the Syrian steppe, largely as a result of overgrazing and unregulated pumping of groundwater.

   Industrial pollution control and monitoring end-of-pipe solutions, as well as clean industrial engineering, will have a market in Syria across a range of industries. Initially, at least, these opportunities are most likely to be in donor-funded projects. In an effort to defer future power plant construction, the government is working on a project with the global environmental facility (GEF) to improve the efficiency of existing plants. Other clean technologies are being sought, such as options for the tanneries in Damascus and Aleppo, whose current waste stream endanger plans for biological treatment of wastewater. Syria is also looking at the possibility of using natural gas fuel for vehicles.

The lack of wastewater treatment facilities means there is a substantial opportunity in this sector in most of the major urban centers. The government has already taken steps to address this problem in Homs, Aleppo, Hama, and Damascus. Improvements to system efficiency as well as reuse of wastewater will be essential in Syria’s future water needs. Environmental consulting is considered an early stage of developing environmental awareness and establishing a governmental structure for monitoring and protecting the environment.