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Syrians Face Growing Hunger as Winter Approaches

FILE - A woman carries bread on her head in Damascus, Syria, July 24, 2019. In October 2020, the government limited the amount of subsidized bread families could buy. And the market price of bread increased 26% from September to October.

Mired in conflict and a debilitating economic crisis, more than 9.3 million Syrians are at increased risk of hunger this winter, with the price of subsidized bread doubling in the past month and humanitarian access drastically reduced.

“Prices of essentials are at historic levels,” U.N. Acting Deputy Humanitarian Chief Ramesh Rajasingham told a meeting of the Security Council on Wednesday. “The price of subsidized bread, which the poorest and most vulnerable families rely on, doubled last month, while the weight of a bundle was reduced by 15%.”

Last month, the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad also limited the amount of subsidized bread families could buy. And the market price of bread has increased, up 26% between September and October, while the price of some fruits and vegetables has risen by 44%.

“What this means, quite simply, is that people are increasingly unable to feed their families,” Rajasingham said.

The number of Syrians without reliable access to affordable and nutritious food is at the highest it has been throughout the nearly decadelong conflict. Rajasingham said 1.4 million more Syrians were food insecure today than a year ago, and about 1 million of the 9.3 million were severely food insecure. He said that number was expected to rise.

Syria has been in steep economic decline, with the Syrian pound plummeting in value since last year as inflation has soared.

Lack of shelter, blankets, fuel

The U.N. said that one third of the 6.7 million internally displaced Syrians lacked proper shelter and that many did not have adequate blankets and heating fuel to get through the cold, wet months ahead. It predicted that 3 million people would need assistance on that front.

The price of diesel fuel, which many use to heat their homes, has risen 21%.

“As the weather gets colder over the coming weeks, and with continued fuel shortages, we expect people will, as they did last year, resort to burning anything they can find to try and keep themselves and their children warm, risking tent fires and poisoning from toxic fumes,” Rajasingham warned.

Coronavirus cases are also rising, adding another layer to the population’s misery and more challenges for a weak and overstretched health care system.

In the past 10 months, the United Nations has lost three of the four border crossings it used to bring humanitarian assistance into Syria from neighboring countries. Because of objections and obstruction from Russia and China on Damascus’ behalf at the U.N. Security Council, authorizations for those crossings were not renewed.

“It defies logic how some member states in this council have chosen to limit humanitarian access in times of tremendous need, rather than guarantee it, prioritizing their own narrative over the well-being of Syrian civilians — be they men, women or children,” said Belgian Ambassador Philippe Kridelka. His country and Germany hold the Syria humanitarian file on the council.

Humanitarians say the Syrian government prefers that all aid originate internally, but such crossline deliveries have been insufficient and open the door to interference wherever they go.