Journal of Mountain Science

, Volume 2, Issue 4, pp 294–305 | Cite as

Reviving ancient water tunnels in the desert—Digging for gold?

  • Joshka WesselsEmail author


The water shortage in the Middle East is a well-known problem. The introduction of diesel operated pumps for irrigation has caused a severe drop in groundwater levels. At the same time the demand for groundwater is growing to alarming proportions. Alternative ways of groundwater supply and management need to be found to halt social and economical disaster in the future. Why not look at history? Qanats are subterranean tunnels ancient civilizations built to access groundwater. The technique is a sustainable method of groundwater extraction Throughout the Middle East some settlements still make use of these ancient systems. In the summer of 2000, a community rehabilitation of a qanat was executed with support from the International Center for Agricultural Research in Dry Areas (ICARDA) and international donors. The renovation served as a pilot community intervention within a participatory action research project aimed at evaluating the use of qanats in Syria. In a second stage of the project, the pilot was scaled up to a nation-wide survey of Syrian qanats in 2001. This resulted in qanat renovations on other sites executed in 2002 and 2003 with further international support. This paper compares the first pilot renovation with a recent qanat renovation that took place in Qarah, Syria.


Traditional water management community action participatory action research Syria Middle East 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Allen Deary and Liam O’Fallon. 2002. Community-Based Participatory Research as A Tool to Advance Environmental Health Sciences.Environmental Health Perspectives Supplements 110(S2).Google Scholar
  2. Britha Mikkelsen. 1995.Methods for Development Work and Research, A Guide for Practitioners. Sage publications, USA.Google Scholar
  3. Dale Lightfoot. Syrian Qanat Romani: History, Ecology, Abandonment.Journal of Arid Environments 33: 321–336.Google Scholar
  4. E. Perrier, A.B. Salkini. 1991.Supplemental Irrigation in the Near East and North Africa. Kluwer Academic Publishers. Pp. 77–189.Google Scholar
  5. Henry Goblot. 1979.Les Qanats. Une technique d’acquisition de L’Eau, ecole des hautes etudes en sciences sociales centre de recherches historiques. Mouton, Paris. Pp. 231.Google Scholar
  6. Iwao Kobori. 1982. Case Studies of Foggara Oases in the Algerian Sahara and Syria. Tokyo University Scientific Mission for the Comparative Study of the Foggara Oasis in the Ariz Zone of the Old Continent. Report No. 2. Japan.Google Scholar
  7. J. Khoury, 1990.Arab Water Security: A Regional Strategy, Horizon 2030. Damascus, Arab Center for the Study of Arid and Dry Areas (ACSAD), Water Resources Division.Google Scholar
  8. Joshka Wessels. 2003. Renovation of the Qanat system of Ain el Taibeh, Qarah, Syria. Interim Evaluation Report for the Dutch, German and Swiss Embassy in Damascus.Google Scholar
  9. Joshka Wessels. Qanats in Syria, Ease the Water Shortage.Waterlines 2(22).Google Scholar
  10. Joshka Wessels. 2003. Criteria for Renovating and Using Ancient Qanats in Syria-Case Studies. The International Frontinus Symposium 2–5 October 2003. Walferdange, Luxemburg, unpublished.Google Scholar
  11. Joshka Wessels. 2003. Community Action for Evaluating the Use of Common Water Resources in Syria. The International CERES Summerschool 2003 “Faces of Poverty. Capabilities, mobilization and institutional transformation” KIT, Amsterdam, Netherlands.Google Scholar
  12. Joshka Wessels, Robert Hoogeveen. 2003. Renovation of Qanats in Syria. In: Adeel Zafar (ed.),Sustainable Management of Marginal Drylands; Application of Indigenous Knowledge for Coastal Drylands. United Nations University, Japan, unpublished.Google Scholar
  13. Joshka Wessels, Robert Hoogeveen, Aden Aw-Hassan, George Arab. 2002.The Potential for Renovating Qanat Systems in Syria through Community Action — Final Project Report for NRMP. ICARDA, Syria, unpublished.Google Scholar
  14. Joshka Wessels, George Arab and Aden Aw-Hassan, 2002.Participatory Survey on Institutions and Ground-water use, Aleppo Province, Syria — Project Report for NRMP. ICARDA, Syria, unpublished.Google Scholar
  15. Joshka Wessels. 2002. Traditional Water Management in Syria; An Evaluation of the Qanats of Syria. The Oman International Conference on the Development and Management of Water Conveyance Systems (Aflaj). Muscat Oman, Ministry of Regional Municipalities. Environment and Water Resources.Google Scholar
  16. Joshka Wessels. 2001. Are Informal Institutions Adequate for Co-Operation on Water Use? A Case Of Qanats in the Middle East.INAMO Journal on the Middle East 7 (27).Google Scholar
  17. Joshka Wessels. 2001. Assessment of Sustainable Qanat Renovation. A Pilot Study in Shallalah Saghirah — Project Report for NRMP. ICARDA, Syria, unpublished.Google Scholar
  18. Joshka Wessels. 2000. Little Waterfall: Renovating Qanats in a changing World, a Case Study in Syria. The First International Conference on Qanats, Yazd, Iran, UNESCO, unpublished.Google Scholar
  19. J. C. Wilkinson, 1977.Water and Tribal Settlement in South-East Arabia, A Study of the Aflaj of Oman. Clarendon Press, Oxford. Pp. 73–85.Google Scholar
  20. Kemmis, S. and R. McTaggart. 1990.The Action Research Planner. Deakin University, Geelong.Google Scholar
  21. Mohammed Bazza, and Reza Najib. 2003. Towards Improved Water Demand Management in Agriculture in the Syrian Arab Republic. The First National Symposium on Management and Rationalization of Water Resources Use in Agriculture Organized by the University of Damascus, Arab Republic of Syria. FAO, Rome. Pp. 21.Google Scholar
  22. M. Daoudy. 1999. Water Institutions and Development in Syria: A Downstream Perspective from the Euphrates and Tigris Syria. World Commission on Dams.Google Scholar
  23. Peter Beaumont, Michael Bonine, Keith McLachlan. 1989.Qanat Kariz & Khattara. Menas Press Ltd., Pp. 3–33.Google Scholar
  24. Robert Hoogeveen, Michael Zobisch, 1999. Report on A Well Inventory and Groundwater Study in Khanasser Valley (DRAFT). ICARDA, Aleppo, Syria, unpublished.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Institute of Moutain Hazards and Environment, Chinese Academy of Sciences and Science Press 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Amsterdam Research Institute for Global Issues and Development Studies (AGIDS)UK

Personalised recommendations