Syria: Conflict, COVID and rising costs, ‘pushing people beyond their limits’

November 13, 2021
Displaced people living in Al-Hol camp in northeastern Syria carry newly received winter clothing kits, distributed by UNICEF. — courtesy UNICEF/Delil Souleiman
Displaced people living in Al-Hol camp in northeastern Syria carry newly received winter clothing kits, distributed by UNICEF. — courtesy UNICEF/Delil Souleiman

DAMASCUS — World Food Program (WFP) Executive Director David Beasley concluded a three-day visit to Syria on Friday, warning that more people there are in the grips of hunger than at any time during their country’s decade-long conflict.

Blaming a deadly combination fighting, climate change, COVID-19 and rising food and fuel costs, he said, “Mothers are telling me that with the upcoming winter they are caught between a rock and a hard place.”

“They either feed their children, and let them freeze, or keep them warm and let them go hungry. They cannot afford both fuel and food,” added the WFP chief spelling out that the deadly mix is “pushing people beyond their limits”.

Choosing who eats

During his travels, Beasley spoke to mothers in nutrition and food distribution centers who elaborated on the hard choices they are forced to make to survive.

A mother of four in Aleppo described her daily struggles. “We are tired, worn out and now hungry too as the economic situation takes its toll,” she said.

She explained that she has not been able to get any fresh food, dairy or eggs for her children for the last four months and had to make difficult decisions, “like deciding which of my children should eat on the basis of who is most fragile and sick or who will slip into severe malnutrition if not fed today”.

Syria breaks food insecurity record

Some 12.4 million people, or almost 60 percent of the population, are now food insecure and do not know where their next meal will come from — a 57 percent increase since 2019 and the highest number ever recorded in the history of Syria, said the UN agency.

The country’s agricultural sector struggles to produce enough to meet the population’s needs as food prices across the country reached record highs in September.

The price of a basket of staple foods has more than doubled since last year and is now beyond the reach of millions of families.

Avoid desperate actions

Moreover, record lows in both rainfall and Euphrates River levels are affecting 3.4 million people as wheat and barley producing governorates report significant losses.

At the same time, the impact of the financial crisis in neighboring Lebanon, the declining value of the Syrian pound and the long-term effect of COVID-19 have all contributed to the country’s economic downturn.

“History has shown us that if we do not help people before they become destitute, they will take drastic measures and we will see mass migration”, warned the top WFP official.

Saving lives

Each month, WFP assists over five million people with food assistance across Syria. But the agency faces severe funding constraints and was recently forced to reduce the size of the monthly food ration that families receive.

With only 31 percent of WFP’s operations in Syria funded, the UN agency urgently needs close to $480 million for the next six months.

“It is cheaper to help people where they are than to do so after they have fled their homes and became refugees in other places. We need the resources to be able to save lives and stabilize the situation,” concluded Beasley. — UN News

November 13, 2021
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