Last updated: 2 August, 2012

Three million Syrians need food and farming aid

Three million Syrians need food, crop and livestock assistance due to the conflict, the United Nations food aid agencies said Thursday, citing a report by the UN and the Syrian government.

That figure included 1.5 million Syrians who “need urgent and immediate food assistance over the next three to six months, especially in areas that have seen the greatest conflict and internal displacement”, the report said.

Based on a survey by the Food and Agriculture Organisation, the World Food Programme and Syria’s agriculture ministry carried out last month, the report also said that “close to a million people need crop and livestock assistance”.

Syria has a total population of around 22 million people.

The two Rome-based UN agencies said they needed $100 million (81 million euros) immediately to fund their activities.

The survey found that Syrian farmers have suffered total losses of $1.8 billion (1.5 billion euros) so far this year.

The losses included damages to crops such as wheat, barley, cherries, olive trees and vegetables, as well as to livestock and irrigation systems.

The worst affected were the Damascus region ($385 million), Homs ($382 million), Aleppo ($244 million) and Idlib ($235 million) where the conflict between government forces and rebels has been particularly fierce.

The study said 30 percent of Syria’s rural population was “at real threat.”

It pointed in particular to the problem of a lack of remittances in impoverished communities since migrant labourers are no longer travelling to richer farming regions of Syria or to Lebanon and Saudi Arabia to make money.

“The effects of these major losses are first, and most viciously, felt by the poorest in the country,” said WFP’s representative in Syria, Muhannad Hadi.

“Most of the vulnerable families the mission visited reported less income and more expenditure. Their lives are becoming more difficult by the day,” he said.

The report found that farmers had been forced to either abandon farming or leave crops unattended due to the lack of labour, the scarcity of fuel and the rise in fuel costs, the growing insecurity, as well as sweeping power cuts.

Wheat harvests have been delayed in Daraa, Homs and Hama as well as in the region around Damascus.

The report also said that deforestation was on the rise as farmers used the forests for fire wood due to the lack of cooking gas and fuel.

The WFP began sending food aid to Syria in October 2011 and has gradually scaled up its operations, reaching 540,000 people in July. It said it aims to reach 850,000 people by the end of this month.

The WFP said it faced a funding shortfall of around $62 million on an overall budget of $103 million.

The FAO began its assistance operations in December 2011 to more than 9,000 small herders and farmers’ households.

The agency said it needed $38 million for the next six months to help a total of 112,500 rural households, or around 900,000 people.

FAO said the most urgent aid required was the provision of food rations over the next three to six months, including rice, sugar, tea and milk powder.

Farmers would also require fuel, wheat and barley seeds, fodder, veterinary medicines as well as access to soft loans to help communities in need.

UN officials, who work with the Syrian government on the ground, said getting food assistance to rebel-held urban areas would be difficult but FAO’s Hilde Niggemann-Pucella said she was confident about rural regions.

“Since these are rural areas we are confident we can reach them in spite of the fighting,” Niggemann-Pucella, a senior operations officer in FAO’s emergency operations and rehabilitation division, told AFP.

She also said she did not foresee international sanctions affecting the aid effort since many provisions could be sourced locally and stressed that FAO would be monitoring to ensure the aid is distributed fairly.

“The funds are administered by FAO. They do not go to the Syrian government,” she said. “When it comes to identifying the farmers that you want to help, FAO will not allow the government to favour some over others.”

Niggemann-Pucella said FAO would be sending an emergency coordinator to Damascus within the next two weeks to help its sole international representative there at the moment, and more officers will follow.

“I do not foresee any security problems for our staff,” she said.