After several years of public auction-run investment in farmlands owned by absentees forcibly displaced from Hama governorate, a foreign NGO has rehabilitated a local irrigation canal, contributing to the legally questionable investment in those lands.
In November 2022, Syria’s General Al-Ghab Plain Management and Development Commission announced on its official Facebook page that its Irrigation and Drainage Directorate had finished rehabilitating irrigation canals that went out of service due to what it described as “terrorist acts”. The directorate had also finished improving the functionality and efficiency of other canals for draining springs and rainwater, in order to prevent wintertime flooding on agricultural lands.
The Commission is an administrative and services entity headquartered in Al-Suqaylabiyeh, a city in rural Hama governorate. It is a legal entity with financial and administrative independence, though affiliated with the Ministry of Agriculture and Agrarian Reform.
Among the projects being implemented by the Irrigation and Drainage Directorate is maintenance work on Canal C4 in the Qalaat Al-Mudhiq area, in order to drain water from the Bab Al-Taqeh and Qaalat Al-Mudhiq springs and prevent flooding on agricultural lands during winter. The directorate has rehabilitated 3,060 metres of Canal C4, with a total 1,003 cubic metres of concrete work, 1,470 kilograms of ironwork and insulation of 4.1 kilometres of earthen drains. In addition, the directorate has implemented a 60-metre water intake channel on Canal C4 near Al-Shariah Bridge.
According to a local correspondent for The Syria Report, Canal C4 is among the most important water drainage channels in Al-Ghab Plain area, preventing flooding on farmland by draining water from the Jabal Shahshibbo springs in winter. The canal can also be used to irrigate summertime crops to its west, by providing it with water from the Qalaat Al-Mudhiq and Al-Asharneh dams.
The Commission said in a Facebook post that Canal C4 underwent the maintenance work with help from Secours Islamique France (SIF), a French Islamic aid organisation. Founded in 1991, SIF describes itself as a non-governmental organisation for international solidarity with a social and humanitarian focus. It performs humanitarian and development work in France and around the world, and has operated in Syria since 2009. In 2013, SIF signed a memorandum of understanding with the Syrian Ministry of Education to rehabilitate a number of schools and shelter centres in Rural Damascus and Deir-ez-Zor governorates, and is now providing support to a road lighting project in Al-Suqaylabiyeh. SIF has no known activities in opposition-controlled areas in northwestern Syria.
It is worth noting that the Canal C4 maintenance project will contribute to irrigating farming projects in an area where some lands belong to forcibly displaced people who are no longer present. The past few years have seen the Hama governorate auction off those lands, presenting a serious threat to the housing, land and property rights of the original owners. According to the local correspondent, the lands benefitting from the canal located west of Qalaat Al-Mudhiq and extending to the town of Al-Huwwash to the north are owned by farmers who were forcibly displaced from the area and are no longer able to return and cultivate them. The governorate has offered these lands for investment via public auctions in recent years.
The correspondent clarified that another portion of the lands irrigated by the canal in Al-Huwwash and the nearby towns of Al-Hamra and Al-Amaqiyeh also belong to forcibly displaced farmers, though the governorate has not offered them for investment via the auctions. Instead, these lands are controlled by regime army officers who refuse to enter them into the public auctions as they are military zones located opposite rebel-controlled areas in the Al-Ghab Plain. According to our correspondent, those officers have cultivated and harvested the lands in the past several years, to their own benefit. The last agricultural season saw the officers face trouble irrigating lands in Al-Huwwash and Al-Hamra as Canal C4 went out of service. However, after the canal underwent the rehabilitation work, they are now able to take water from it and water the farmland there.