Saving the Orontes River: A community effort to restore a city lifeline

Workers are installing water pumps in the Orontes River in Hama in order to facilitate water movement that is required to combat the severe odors caused by water stagnation.

With less rainfall, a dramatic rise in population due to the arrival of at least 60,589 displaced people from other governorates has stressed the Orontes River which runs across the city of Hama (North of Syria). Garbage alone has increased to over 750,000 tons most ends up in the river. The areas around Orontes River feed about 300 hectares of mostly vegetables such as potatoes, peppers, eggplant, and zucchini which are consumed by the community themselves is still facing serious issues. With violence and damages caused by war to public infrastructure including water networks, the river provides an alternative solution for access to water.


  • Garbage alone has increased to over 750,000 tons which sit along the river’s banks.
  • The areas that were targeted within the Orontes River feeds about 300 hectares of land planted mostly with vegetables such as potatoes, peppers, eggplant, and zucchini which are consumed by the community themselves is still facing serious issues.

This misfortune has however brought about an opportunity for 18 internally displaced men who are now in Hama and 22 locals. These 40 men whose average ages range from 18 to 45 are now to address this issues facing the river while making an honest income. As part of a livelihood revival and rehabilitation of basic infrastructure initiative led by UNDP in the governorate of Hama, the workers spend about 6 hour per day picking up garbage in the river banks and surrounding gardens, and replanting where ever they can. Each worker receives about 25,000 Syrian Pounds ($150USD) per month which helps them to better maintain their family.

“I came here from Aleppo with my wife and 10 children with nothing but the clothes we have on” said Adnan Mkayes (49) .“The money I receive from this work allows me to buy the basic needs that my family needs. This makes me feel so blessed especially that I am not receiving this money as a cash handout from charities”, confirmed Mkayes who was a marble stone installer back in Aleppo and now resides in a two room apartment with his entire family.

Although the number of workers in this initiative is small in comparison to the substantive challenges the river faces, the results have been significant. So far, the workers have cleaned alongside 3 kilometers of the river’s reach covering 11 neighborhoods in the city of Hama with a cumulative population of 150,000 residents. With just 21 days of work, 25000 kilo grams from garbage has so far been removed,

Adnan and the rest of the team have been greatly appreciated by the communities who live along the three kilometer range that has been targeted. With the reduction of up to 75% of severe odors, residents in the 11 neighborhoods are now able to walk alongside the banks of the river and once more appreciate this natural treasure.

“While UNDP’s main focus is to generate income for the displaced people living in Hama, the environment and the communities are major benefactors of this initiative” said Ali Kayali, who is the area manager in Hama. “Residents have come to me, who never knew of UNDP are now much more appreciative of our presence in Hama due to this initiative” confirmed Ali Kayali.

Beyond training and equipping the 40 workers, UNDP also provided the community with five water pumps located in front of the main city bridge. The water pumps empower water wheels that move the still waters in order to combat the severe odors that have forced residents to keep their doors and windows shut.

“The solution to this problem was inspired by the ancient Norias that were built thousands of years ago here in Hama” said Kayali. “Although not grand like the notorious Norias of Hama, these water wheels have created an affordable and sustainable solution to solve the problem”


UNDP Around the world

You are at UNDP Syria 
Go to UNDP Global