The Blood-Red Barada River: Speculations and Explanations

The Blood-Red Barada River: Speculations and Explanations

Reports | 7 06 2023

Iman Hamrawi

Last week, residents of Damascus were shaken to wake up and find that the Barada River has turned red.

Local authorities in Damascus has attributed the color change to rain and soil discoloration. Unconvinced social media users, on the other hand, have been posting photos of the river wondering why the color has changed. While some assume it was blood that changed the color, others .believe it was dye 

Rozana has come up with a number of possible explanations of the discoloration, whether it was caused by the rain or by something else, so that .it would find the most logical answer

Damascus’s Explanation

“Heavy rain is the reason behind the red color seen in the Barada River,” Nidal al-Hafez, the maintenance director in Damascus Governorate, told Athr Press. “Soil and mud have turned into a riverbed”. 

It seems, however, that such an explanation wasn’t convincing to Syrians online. While some asked for “a scientific logical explanation, not a cover story”, others wondered whether it “was possible for soil to turn blood red”. 

Media activist Fadi Shabat believes that clashes are what’s behind the color change. 

“Violent clashes broke out in Madaya, in the western countryside of Damascus, a few days ago. The town was completely encircled by the Military Security Branch and al-Assad’s State Security Branch. Today, the Barada River is red and smells bad,” he posted on Facebook. 

While many suggested that a massacre of civilians is what caused the discoloration, others questioned and denied such narrative.

Is It Fake?

Rozana managed to find the owner of the original photos. The owner, who preferred to remain anonymous, claimed to have taken the photos on his way to work. The red color, they explain, drew their attention while they were walking by the river. 

According to them, there has been large amounts of soil in the river. A narrative that is consistent with the governer of Damascuss stating that the red color was caused by heavy rain and soil turning into a riverbed. 

The owner has also sent Rozana photos, claimed to be taken later, showing soil-level rise. The color of the water, however, remained muddy brown and shades darker than the red seen in earlier photos. 

To verify the photos, Rozana used FotoForensics to analyze and check if the photos have been altered. As it turns out, they have not

Is It a Red Soil?

Rain and floods can’t turn rivers into red, according to agronomist Ahmed Hammoud. “Rain can’t change the color of the Barada River into that shade seen in the photos,” he told Rozana. Hammoud also ruled out the possibility that soil turning into a riverbed could have caused the discoloration. 

“The redness seems to be instantaneous. The soil can’t be a factor, especially that the Barada River’s soil isn’t red,” he continued. 

“Even a red soil doesn’t turn rivers into blood red,” he added. “They become muddy and reddish, instead”. 

A civil engineer and a soil consultant, who preferred to remain anonymous, also ruled out the possibility that the soil might have caused the discoloration. 

Syria has many types of soils, which vary depending on the geographical area. Calcareous soils are widespread in Damascus and southern Syria, according to study by Geography Knowledge.

According to Geography Knowledge, calcareous soils are widespread in the southern and central parts of the desert; different parts around the rivers of Euphrates and al-Khabour; and al-Qalamoun and parts of the Damascus basin. Such soils are brownish yellow, which is supported by the agronomist’s suggestion that soils in Damascus can’t be red.

Might It Be the Tanneries?

Hammoud has attributed the redness of the Barada River to either chemical dyes or certain weapons dumped into the river. 

“If the redness was caused by rain and floods, the river would have been brick-colored or brown. It would have been the same color as the soil, and the soil in Damascus is not red,” he added.

He also highly doubted that blood could be the reason behind the discoloration. “Fabric dyes are probably being dumped into the river. Chemical laboratories might also be discharging waste into the river,” he said. 

The civil engineer and soil consultant, who preferred to remain anonymous, also believes that the discoloration is likely caused by chemical dyes discharged into the river by factories.

The owner of the photos told Rozana that there are tanneries in the area near the river, without giving further details about where the photos were exactly taken.

According to a report by Kassioun, the official newspaper of the People’s Will Party, growing population; industrial facilities and craft enterprises near Barada river have resulted in a lower life expectancy and a larger amount of waste, turning Barada’s riverbed and tributaries into a sewerage carrying off a strange mixture of pollutants.

One of the most dangerous pollutants, the report states, is the chromium discharged by almost 240 tanneries near communities and riverbanks. Such tanneries are exhausting the clean water of the Damascus basin, and doubling the pollution rate in rivers that are the main source of irrigation.

Is It blood?

Syrian social media activists have been questioning whether the reason behind the discoloration is a massacre. 

Assad security branches in Damascus are the General Intelligence Directorate, the Air Force Intelligence Directorate, and the military intelligence. The closest directorate to Barada River, Rozana learned, is the Political Security Directorate. It’s within 18 kilometers of the river. 

Agronomist Hammoud told Rozana that’s it’s highly doubted that blood could be the reason behind the discoloration, and that the redness could be a result of chemical dyes or certain weapons being dumped into the river. The civil engineer and soil consultant also doubts that blood could be the reason behind the color change. 

In 2012, state-owned newspaper Tishreen quoted the chemical team studying the environmental situation and the pollution of the Barada river as saying “The riverbed of Bab al-Salam is filled with waste from slaughterhouses and shops selling sheep. The intestines get discharged into the riverbed after sheep are slaughtered. The smell is intolerable, especially with insects and waste from marble sawmills filling up the place. Not to mention the high rate of chromium discharged by tanneries”.

In January 2013, local residents of Bustan al-Qasr in Aleppo were shocked to see tens of bodies floating in Queiq River. More than 200 bodies were recovered back then. According to the Syrian Network for Human Rights, the bodies were of people who were summarily executed by shooting.

According to photos and videos of the incident, the color of the river didn’t change back then. 

The above mentioned possible explanations remain uncertain, even though the sources contacted by Rozana are suggesting that the tanneries are probably the reason behind the discoloration. There’s no means to prove such assumption true, given that the area as well as the eyewitnesses cannot be reached. 

Around the World

The Pukamayu river, in Peru, has previously turned red. Environmentalists in south America concluded that the red river phenomenon was a result of soil erosion. 

In 2016, Russians were also surprised to find that the Daldykan river had turned red. National Geographic has given two explanations of the discoloration, the first of which is that the river color might have been stained with the salts of iron that’s a basic component of the soil in that area; the second is that there might have been a discharge of chemical substances. 

“According to our initial information, a possible reason for the pollution of the river might be a break in the pipeline belonging to a local factory,” Ministry of Natural Resources and the Environment of the Russian Federation commented. 

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