Restoring Roman Wells to bring relief: How an ancient artifact is revived for livelihoods

Workers undertake the renovation of a Roman well in Syria. Photo: UNDP Syria

In Syria's rural areas, long-abandoned Roman wells have become more than a relic of a bygone civilization. For communities struggling to cope with the disastrous ongoing conflict, these ancient wells, dug more than 2,000 years ago, have now become a means of survival.


  • 36 ancient Roman wells have so far been rehabilitated to store water for drinking and irrigation.
  • 450 families approximately 2250 persons have benefited from clean and safe water stored in the wells.
  • 150 cubic metres of water can be stored in each well.

Fighting is now entering its third year in Syria, killed over 120,000 and displaced more than 6.5 million people. It has also resulted in widespread physical damage to basic infrastructure. Because of damage to pipelines throughout the country, and an exodus of skilled maintenance workers and managers, access to clean and safe water has become increasingly difficult - and for farmers already facing poverty – costly.

“Before the crisis, we rarely had a problem with water," says Jameel, 45, a father of four and small scale farmer in the region of Al-Ghab. "The crisis has forced us to buy water from trucks, which is very expensive.”

To help farmers like Jameel, UNDP is providing emergency jobs to people affected by the conflict, in a scheme to fix-up the ancient wells in the region. By cleaning and pumping out stagnant water, widening and deepening the wells and monitoring the water quality for safety, so far hundreds of conflicted affected families in Syria now have access once again to clean drinking water.

At the same time, many of those who have lost jobs because of the conflict are able to prevent their slide into further poverty through the job scheme. “I am really happy to have been able to work on rehabilitating this well” says Qais, who was displaced by fighting in his native Homs and now lives in Al-Ghab. "With two months of work, I was able to earn almost US$ 900."

The intervention is timely. As the armed conflict drags on, farming communities whose livelihoods depend on water have begun to suffer. Unemployment - already an issue before the fighting, has now reached close to 50 percent. Hostilities had cost the economy over US$ 103 billion by mid-2013, equivalent to 174 percent of the 2010 gross domestic product. Agricultural production has declined dramatically – due to poor security conditions, and the increasing cost of fertilizers, energy and shipping. As a result, families are now relying more and more on home-grown food for their survival.

In 2013, UNDP supported the restoration of 36 wells, which has helped hundreds of farming households to save an average of US$ 360 per year (a figure that represents approximately one month’s average salary).

“Rehabilitating Roman wells not only provides clean and safe water, but is also more cost-effective than building a new one,” says UNDP's Ali Ka yyali. “While modern wells are costly to build and require heavy equipment, Roman wells collect rainwater and water from surface aquifers. They are an ideal quick fix for the water crisis we are facing due to the conflict.”

“The renovation of these wells has become an integral element to establishing community resilience” says Kayyali.

For Jameel, the well has brought much-needed revenue for him and his family. The water he now collects from the well helps him produce fruits and vegetables to sell at the local market.

“The money I used to pay for buying water can now be used for seeds, and expansion of income generating agricultural production,” says Jameel. “I feel really blessed that I don’t need to ask for food assistance from NGOs. "I can feed my family.”

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