CAIRO – The war in Ukraine has dealt a fresh hammer blow to Syria’s ability to feed itself just as the country struggles to deal with levels of hunger that are up by half since 2019, the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) said prior to an annual donor pledging conference held in Brussels.
With years of conflict, a severe economic downturn and food prices rising relentlessly since 2020, the Ukraine crisis is exacerbating what was already an alarming food security scenario in Syria. In March, food prices increased by 24% in just one month, following an 800% increase in the last two years. This has brought food prices to their highest level since 2013.
“Saying that the situation in Syria is alarming is a huge understatement. The heart-breaking reality for millions of Syrian families is that they don’t know where their next meal is coming from,” said U.N. World Food Programme Executive Director David Beasley. “The international community must recognize that not taking action now will inevitably lead to a catastrophic future for Syrians. They deserve our immediate and unconditional support.”
Some 12 million people in Syria – more than half the population – currently face acute food insecurity. That is 51% more than in 2019 and an additional 1.9 million are at risk of sliding into hunger. With basic meals becoming a luxury for millions, nutrition is becoming a serious issue.
Data from 2021 shows that one in eight children in Syria suffers from stunting while pregnant and nursing mothers show record levels of acute wasting. Both facts point to devastating health consequences for future generations.
Plagued by continual crises for over a decade, Syrian families have exhausted their ability to cope. As last resort measures, people are turning to extreme measures, such as child labor, early and forced marriages, and the removal of children from school.
Meanwhile, the U.N. World Food Programme’s resources are under more pressure than ever, and funding is not keeping pace with the staggering needs of people across the country. Over time, the U.N. World Food Programme has been forced to progressively reduce the size of the monthly food ration across the country. A 13% ration cut is looming this month in Northwest Syria, where people will start receiving food that translates into 1,177 kilocalories, just over half of the recommended daily intake.
The U.N. World Food Programme is 27% funded until October, with a shortfall of $595 million. Additional funding is urgently needed to continue to assist millions of people across the country. Without new funding, the U.N. World Food Programme could be forced to undertake additional drastic cuts in the coming months.
“In a year of unprecedented needs, the compounding effect of the war in Ukraine requires our donors to step in and help us avoid reducing rations or the cutting the number of people we assist,” emphasized Beasley.
Support from donors has allowed the U.N. World Food Programme to help millions of vulnerable Syrians obtain food when they have needed it most. Each month the U.N. World Food Programme distributes lifesaving food to 5.6 million people, injects around $3 million into local economy through cash-based transfers (CBT), provides fortified date bars, fresh meals and/or food vouchers to schoolchildren, and provides nutritional support to women who have recently given birth or will do soon.
“If I knew my life would end up like this, I wouldn’t have had my children; I would have saved them all this suffering,” said one mother in the western Syrian city of Hama.
CAIRO – As the Muslim holy month of Ramadan begins, the soaring cost of food staples in import-dependent Middle Eastern and North African countries is creating ever greater challenges for millions of families already struggling to keep hunger at bay, the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) said yesterday.
Traditionally a month of festivities, when families gather over traditional foods to break their day-long fast, this year millions will be struggling to buy even the most basic foods for their families as the war in Ukraine has pushed food prices even higher than the troubling levels at the start of the year.
“We are extremely concerned about the millions of people in this region who are already struggling to access enough food because of a toxic combination of conflict, climate change and the economic aftermath of COVID-19,” said Corinne Fleischer, U.N. World Food Programme regional director for the Middle East and North Africa. “People’s resilience is at a breaking point. This crisis is creating shockwaves in the food markets that touch every home in this region. No one is spared.”
The knock-on effect of the Ukraine crisis is adding further strain to the import-dependent region. The prices of wheat flour and vegetable oil – two key staples in the diet of most families – have consequently risen across the region. Cooking oil is up 36% in Yemen and 39% in Syria. Wheat flour is up 47% in Lebanon, 15% in Libya and 14% in Palestine.
Even prior to the conflict in Ukraine, inflation and increasing prices were putting basic food items beyond the reach of the most vulnerable. Food prices reached an all-time high in February 2022, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization’s Food Price Index.
The cost of a basic food basket – the minimum food needs per family per month – registered an annual increase of 351% in Lebanon, the highest in the region. It was followed by Syria, with a 97% rise, and Yemen with 81% hike. The three countries, all reliant on food imports, also reported sharp currency depreciation. Meanwhile, a drought in Syria has impacted the country’s annual wheat production.
With global prices rising, the U.N. World Food Programme’s meagre resources for operations in the region, especially in Yemen and Syria, will be under even more pressure than before. In both countries, conflict and the related economic shrinkage have left more than 29 million people in need of food assistance. The U.N. World Food Programme is supporting nearly 19 million people in the two countries.
The global food price hikes and the Ukraine conflict have resulted in the U.N. World Food Programme facing an additional cost of $71 million per month for global operations compared to 2019 – a 50% rise.
“The Ukraine crisis makes a bad funding situation worse. There are immediate humanitarian needs that demand attention. Donors have in recent years helped us provide food to millions in the region. Now the situation is critical and it’s time to be even more generous,” added Fleischer.
The U.N. World Food Programme currently has only 24% of the funding it needs in Syria and 31% of what it needs in Yemen. Due to funding constraints, the U.N. World Food Programme has already been forced to reduce food rations in both countries. Further reductions risk pushing people towards starvation.
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DAMASCUS/BEIRUT – United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) Executive Director David Beasley has warned that more Syrians are in the grip of hunger today than at any time during their country’s decade-long conflict, blaming a deadly combination of conflict, climate change, COVID and rising food and fuel costs.
During a three-day visit to the country, Beasley met with vulnerable families receiving U.N. World Food Programme food assistance in Aleppo. Mothers he spoke to in nutrition and food distribution centers complained about the skyrocketing food prices and described the hard choices they must make to survive.
A mother of four children, Hanan, whom Beasley met in Aleppo, described her daily struggles: “We are tired, worn out and now hungry too as the economic situation takes its toll,” she said. “I have not been able to get any fresh food, dairy or eggs for my children for the last four months. I have 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.”
Some 12.4 million people — almost 60 percent of the population — are now hungry and do not know where their next meal will come from. This is a 57 percent increase since 2019 and the highest number ever recorded in the history of Syria.
Syria’s agricultural sector struggles to produce enough to meet the population’s needs and food prices across the country reached record highs in September. Compared to just one year ago, the price of a basket of staple foods has more than doubled and is now beyond the reach of millions of families. Record lows both in levels of rainfall and in the level of the Euphrates are affecting 3.4 million people as governorates producing wheat and barley report significant losses.
“Conflict, climate change, COVID-19 and now the cost of living are pushing people beyond their limits,” Beasley 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.”
The impact of the financial crisis in neighboring Lebanon and the decline in the value of the Syrian pound compounded by the long-term impact of COVID-19 have all contributed to Syria’s economic downturn, pushing millions of people, already weakened by 10 years of conflict and displacement, into hunger, desperation and extreme poverty.
The U.N. World Food Programme is assisting over five million people with food assistance across Syria every month. But the agency faces severe funding constraints and was recently forced to reduce the size of the monthly food ration that families receive. The U.N. World Food Programme is only 31 percent funded and urgently requires close to $480 million for the next six months.
“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,” Beasley warned. “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.”
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The United Nations World Food Programme is the 2020 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate. We are the world’s largest humanitarian organization, saving lives in emergencies and using food assistance to build a pathway to peace, stability and prosperity for people recovering from conflict, disasters and the impact of climate change.