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A few miles beyond an irrigated golf course on the outskirts of Damascus, scores of refugees fleeing drought in Syria’s northeastern breadbasket have settled into tents on a rocky field.

“Our wells are dry and the rains don’t come,” said Ahmed Abu Hamed Mohieddin, a wheat farmer from the town of Qamishli in the Fertile Crescent, a rich agricultural area stretching from Iraq to Israel. “We cannot depend on God’s will for our crops. We come to the city, where the money is.” He and three sons work as porters in the capital’s vegetable markets.

They are among about 300,000 families driven to Damascus, Aleppo and other cities in one of the “largest internal displacements in the Middle East in recent years,” according to a Feb. 17 report by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

The water shortage is undermining efforts to maintain economic growth in a country where agriculture until recently accounted for about 25 percent of gross domestic product. The drought is also a potential source of tension as Syria seeks to increase its political influence in the region, where it competes for shared river resources with Turkey, Iraq and Israel.

“It’s a problem for the government,” said Jihad Yazigi, editor-in-chief in Damascus of The Syria Report, an online business journal based in Paris. “They don’t like the image of Syria as a drought-ridden, Middle Eastern Ethiopia. Also, it’s not just a lack of water, it’s bad water management by the government itself.”BW

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