Half of Syria’s Population Faces Hunger as Conflict Passes 12-Year Milestone and Earthquakes Deepen Economic Woes

Photo: WFP/Khudr Alissa/2020
Published March 14, 2023

DAMASCUS – An average monthly wage in Syria currently covers about a quarter of a family’s food needs, the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) said today, highlighting an urgent need for increased humanitarian assistance as the country grapples with the devastating impact of recent earthquakes and a 12-year-long conflict.

Some 12.1 million people, more than 50% of the population, are currently hungry and a further 2.9 million are at risk of sliding into hunger. Meanwhile, recent data show that malnutrition is on the rise, with stunting and maternal malnutrition rates reaching levels never seen before.

“Bombardment, displacement, isolation, drought, economic meltdown and now earthquakes of staggering proportions. Syrians are remarkably resilient but there’s only so much that people can take,” says Kenn Crossley, U.N. World Food Programme country director in Syria. “At what point does the world say enough?”

The February 6 earthquakes came as food prices in Syria were already soaring. The selection of standard food items that the U.N. World Food Programme uses to track food inflation has almost doubled in price in 12 months and is 13 times more expensive than three years ago. The upwards trajectory is expected to continue.

The recent earthquakes have highlighted the urgent need for increased humanitarian assistance in Syria, not only for people hit by the earthquakes, but also for those who were already grappling with sky-rocketing food prices, a fuel crisis and consecutive climate shocks. Food and fuel prices are at their highest in a decade after years of inflation and currency devaluation.

Stunting rates among children have reached 28% in some parts of the country and maternal malnutrition prevalence 25% in northeast Syria.

A country that used to be self-sufficient in food production now ranks among the six countries with the highest food insecurity in the world, with heavy dependency on food imports. Damaged infrastructure, high cost of fuel and drought-like conditions have slashed Syria’s wheat production by 75%.

The U.N. World Food Programme provides food assistance for 5.5 million people across the country through a mixture of food distributions, nutrition programs, school meals, cash assistance and support for livelihoods, resilience, and social safety nets. Since the earthquake hit north Syria, the U.N. World Food Programme has reached 1.7 million quake-affected people, including people who already benefit from monthly food assistance.

A funding crunch for the U.N. World Food Programme in Syria threatens to curtail the assistance, exactly when people need it most. The U.N. World Food Programme urgently requires a minimum of $450 million to keep up assistance for over 5.5 million people across Syria for the rest of 2023. This includes $150 million to support 800,000 people affected by the earthquake for six months.

Without sufficient resources, the U.N. World Food Programme will have to drastically reduce the number of beneficiaries it serves from July onwards, leaving millions of people in deep need without food assistance.

“The world has now forgotten us. That’s what we hear from many Syrians, and it’s a stark reminder that we need to do more,” said the U.N. World Food Programme’s Regional Director for the Middle East, North Africa and Eastern Europe Corinne Fleischer. “We need the funds to continue to provide food for millions of families – until Syrians can feed themselves again.”

As well as providing immediate food assistance, the U.N. World Food Programme is working on finding long-term solutions to help communities in Syria become less reliant on direct food assistance. Across Syria, the U.N. World Food Programme supports the rehabilitation of irrigation systems, mills, bakeries and markets. Such projects carry greater return on investment compared to traditional food distributions. For example, each $1 invested in rehabilitation of bakeries or irrigation canals can reduce the annual cost of general food assistance by over $3.

Note to the editor:

Broadcast quality footage available here
High-res photos available here

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The United Nations World Food Programme is 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.

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