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Syria: Drought Appeal 2008
Poor and erratic rainfall since October 2007 has caused the worst drought to strike Syria in four decades. Approximately one million people are severely affected and food insecure, particularly in rainfed areas of the northeast – home to Syria’s most vulnerable, agriculture-dependant families. During the 2007/2008 planting season, nearly 75 percent of these households suffered total crop failure.
Depleted vegetation in pastures and the exhaustion of feed reserves have forced many herders to sell their livestock at between 60 and 70 percent below cost. Wheat and barley yields have dropped by 47 and 67 percent, respectively, as compared to the previous year. Since January 2008, the rise in local bread and cereal costs soared to twice that of global inflation rates, drastically reducing the ability of families to meet daily food requirements. The country’s emergency wheat stocks have been exhausted. Lack of income, furthered by the necessity to sell off livelihood assets to afford basic needs, is increasing the risk of vulnerable households to fall into permanent destitution. Government efforts to assist affected households have included the provision of emergency aid, animal feed and veterinary services, among other initiatives.
However, the needs arising from the crisis exceed Government resources and require the support of the international community. The Syria Drought Appeal was launched on 29 September to address the emergency needs and food security of approximately one million drought-affected people over a six-month timeframe.
Challenges facing food security and agriculture
The one million people (206 000 households) severely affected by the crisis are farmers and herders who lost most of their harvest and flock to the drought. These assets constitute the sole source of income and primary basis for household food security for these families. Approximately 32 percent of land in Syria is arable, of which nearly one-third depends on rainfall for its productivity. Recovery of the agriculture sector will be contingent on the return of rains and the yields of the upcoming planting season, beginning in October, for which farmers currently lack seeds. The drought caused drastic crop losses, particularly in rainfed zones.
Wheat production in non-irrigated areas dropped by 82 percent as compared with the previous season, while the barley harvest failed entirely. Reduced availability of barley, straw and vegetation in pastures coupled with a 75 percent rise in fodder costs have resulted in a 50 percent increase in animal mortality and a 70 percent reduction in fertility rates. Both herders and farmers have sold off productive assets, eroding their source of livelihoods, earnings and household nutrition. Consequently, food insecurity and malnourishment rates have soared. Since 2007, malnutrition among pregnant women and children under the age of five has doubled. Without assistance, families will continue to resort to harmful coping strategies, such as reducing their food intake, selling essential assets and migration. Inaction will further deteriorate the livelihoods and self-reliance of vulnerable households and prolong the need for costly relief, such as food aid.
The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) has appealed for USD 9.36 million under the Syria Drought Appeal to support Government efforts to restore food production and safeguard agricultural livelihoods. Unmet requirements amount to USD 8.6 million following support provided by the Central Emergency Response Fund. Protecting the asset base of herders and assisting farmers to resume planting in time for the upcoming season will be paramount to recovering the food security and nutritional status of the most drought-affected families. FAO's proposed activities aim to:
- restore the crop production of farmers through the distribution of drought-resistant, local variety wheat and barley seeds for the upcoming planting season; and
- safeguard the livelihoods and remaining assets of vulnerable small-scale herders through the timely provision of animal feed to avert the starvation and sale of livestock.