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Syrian Conflict Creates Food Insecurity for Millions

  • Lisa Schlein

A Syrian refugee is pictured at the Al Zaatri refugee camp in the Jordanian city of Mafraq, near the border with Syria, July 31, 2012.

A Syrian refugee is pictured at the Al Zaatri refugee camp in the Jordanian city of Mafraq, near the border with Syria, July 31, 2012.

GENEVA – A new report finds the conflict in Syria is having a devastating impact on the country's food, crop and livestock production. A recent assessment by the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, the World Food Program and Syria's Ministry of Agriculture notes up to three million people will need assistance during the coming year.

Of the three million vulnerable people, the report says about half will need immediate food assistance over the next three to six months. This is particularly true of Syrians who are displaced by or caught up in the fighting.

In addition, the report says nearly one million people need crop and livestock assistance such as seeds, food for animals, fuel and repair of irrigation pumps. The report says the Syrian agricultural sector has lost $1.8 billion this year as a result of the ongoing conflict.

WFP spokeswoman Emilia Casella says there is a great risk of a complete collapse of livelihoods of farming families in the next few months. She says urgent action is needed to help these people before winter.

"Now, what we are seeing is that many of these farming families and Bedouins and herders have had to start to cut the size of their meals," Casella said. "They are eating cheaper food, lower quality food. They are taking their children out of school and sending them to work. They are selling their livestock and their other assets, which means that even when peacetime comes, and we hope it comes soon, some of these people will not be able to quickly return to farming because they have had to sell their assets in order just to survive now."

The report says the situation is forcing Syrian farmers to abandon farming or leave crops unattended. This is because of insecurity, the unavailability of labor, the lack of fuel and rising costs, as well as power cuts affecting the water supply.

The report says wheat harvesting is delayed in the regions of Dara'a, Damascus, Homs and Hama. It warns part of the crop will be lost if farmers do not receive timely assistance.

The assessment mission also finds deforestation is on the rise. It says Syrian farmers increasingly are turning to the forest for firewood as cooking gas and fuel become scarce.

Casella says the farmers needing immediate assistance include female-headed households.

"There are about five to 10 percent of the farming families that were interviewed for this assessment were headed by women," she explained. "And, this is either because the husbands had to leave to seek work or have not been able to get back to be with their families or indeed because they are headed by widows. And, they really need special attention. They are even more vulnerable obviously if they are looking after children and having to protect their families and at the same time try to farm their farms and keep production going."

Last October, the World Food Program started an emergency operation to feed 850,000 people throughout Syria. It has fallen short of this goal because of the conflict, reaching 540,000 people by the end of July.

Casella says the WFP, working with the Syrian Red Crescent, distributed food to 28,000 people Monday in Aleppo, where a battle between the government and rebels is raging. As long as fighting persists, she says lack of access will continue to hamper humanitarian operations.

Casella says lack of money is also a big problem. To date, she says WFP has a shortfall of $62 million in its $103 million Syrian appeal for this year.