Syria is situated on the eastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea, and is bordered in the north by Turkey, in the east by Iraq, and in the south by Jordan, Israel and Lebanon.
The climate of the coastal plain is Mediterranean, with hot, dry summers and mild, wet winters. Rainfall increases with altitude in the coastal mountain ranges, and snow is common in winter. In the dry steppe and open desert country east of the mountains, a marked continental climate prevails, with high summer temperatures and relatively cold winters, with many nights of frost.
Agriculture has traditionally been the mainstay of the economy. Much of the agriculture is concentrated in the ancient "Fertile Crescent" which extends in an arc from the inner rim of the coastal mountains, through northern Syria and down the Euphrates Valley into Iraq.
Summary of Wetland Situation
With its mountainous terrain in the west and arid climate in the east, Syria possesses rather few major natural wetlands other than the Euphrates River itself. Furthermore, most of those wetlands which did exist have been degraded or destroyed by drainage for agriculture and diversion of water supplies for irrigation purposes. There are 180 km of coastline on the Mediterranean, but most of this is rocky with narrow sand beaches. The few offshore islands are small and rocky, the best known being Arwad off Tartus.
The loss of natural wetlands in Syria has to some extent been compensated for by the creation of a number of large water storage reservoirs, some of which have become important for migratory waterfowl. A large section of the Euphrates Valley was dammed and flooded in the 1970s, creating Buhayrat al-Asad (Lake Asad). This huge reservoir, covering over 63,000 ha and much the largest water body in the country, now supports very large numbers of waterfowl in winter.
A recent inventory of Important Bird Areas in the Middle East, sponsored by BirdLife International, has identified 22 sites as being of special importance for bird conservation in Syria (Evans, 1994). Six of these sites are wetlands and a further ten contain significant tracts of wetland habitat. It was believed that all of the permanent and seasonal wetlands that are most important for water birds had been included in the inventory, but it was acknowledged that coverage of coastal habitats was inadequate. Twelve of the wetland areas described in Evans (1994) are included in the present inventory. The others have been excluded either because they are of only local, rather than international, significance, or because they have already been degraded or destroyed.