How Syria’s hunger crisis is fuelled by conflict, climate and Covid-19

How Syria’s hunger crisis is fuelled by conflict, climate and Covid-19

5 May 2021

More than 200 NGOs recently published an open letter to all governments, relaying an urgent message: increase aid or 34 million people would be pushed to the brink of starvation this year. 

The NGOs’ call came one year after the UN warned of “famines of biblical proportions” due to the global spread of Covid-19 as well as more frequent natural disasters and climate change. Put simply, the UN said at the time, we were facing a “perfect storm”.

One year on and those warnings have gone unheeded. Rich donors have funded just five percent of the UN’s $7.8 billion food security appeal for 2021, while globally, world food prices reached a seven-year high in February of this year.

At the end of 2020, the UN estimated that 270 million people were either at high risk of, or already facing, acute levels of hunger. While 174 million people in 58 countries have reached that level already and are at risk of dying from malnutrition or lack of food, this figure is only likely to rise in the coming months if nothing is done immediately.

Conflict is the biggest driver of global hunger, which is also exacerbated by climate change and the Covid-19 pandemic.

Rafik sitting on rubble of his damaged house in Eastern Ghouta, Syria. Photo: Dania Kareh/Oxfam

Take Syria, a country where 12.4 million people – or 60 percent of the population – go to bed hungry every night, and 1.1. million people need humanitarian aid to survive.

March marked 10 years since the start of the Syrian conflict, a war that has led to tremendous human suffering and the largest refugee crisis in the worlds. Hundreds of thousands of people have died. More than 12 million people have fled their homes, many more than once.

Even before Covid-19, more than 80 percent of Syrians were estimated to be living below the poverty line. The cost of the average food basket in Syria increased by 249 percent in the 12 months up to October last, while the World Food Programme estimated last June that some 9.3 million people were food insecure. Over over two million more were at risk, it added, a rise of some 42 percent in just one year.

Jim Clarken, Chief Executive of Oxfam Ireland, said: “While both the Irish government and public have been consistently generous in their support of aid efforts, global funding is not keeping pace with the increasing need – even with extreme hunger crises looming for millions more people across the world.”

Marwan*, one of 434 farmers who received saplings and seeds in Rural Damascus as a part of a project ran by Oxfam to help farmers remain self-sufficient. *Name changed to protect identity. Photo: Dania Kareh/Oxfam

Since the first cases of Covid-19 were reported in Syria, we have beefed up our response, distributing thousands of hygiene kits, cash, as well as providing seeds, seedlings and animal fodder to farmers in Aleppo, Deir ez-Zor and rural Damascus. We also distribute food to communities, train people to grow food and make a living and provide cash for people who need it the most.

But if we want to ensure that millions of Syrians no longer go to bed hungry, the conflict must come to an end.

"Ireland, as a recently elected member of the UN Security Council, now has an important role in promoting respect of international humanitarian law and the protection of civilians in time of armed conflict,” added Jim Clarken.

At the outset of the Covid-19 pandemic, the UN Secretary General called for a global ceasefire to address the pandemic but too few leaders have sought to implement it. Together, we must now push global leaders to support durable and sustainable solutions to conflict, and open pathways for humanitarians to access communities in conflict zones to save lives.
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