Syria Drought Response Plan 2009
The Syrian Arab Republic is facing its third consecutive year of severe drought. In the northeast and the Badia region, the failed rains of this year have compounded devastating losses from 2007/08 – during the country’s worst drought spell in over four decades. The crisis has negatively impacted the food security of 1.3 million people, of which over 800 000 are severely affected.
The drought has caused acute water and food shortages and an extreme deterioration in health and nutritional status. Most farmers who depend on rainfed production have suffered complete, or near-total, loss of crops, while only few small-scale herders have retained 3-10 percent of their animals. Since 2006, the income of severely affected groups has plummeted by 90 percent. Soaring food and input costs have made the most basic necessities inaccessible to households most in need. Harmful coping strategies, such as reduced food intake, the sale of livelihood assets, withdrawal of children from school and large-scale migration to urban areas, are rendering affected populations more vulnerable and farther from recovery.
The Syria Drought Response Plan 2009 was launched on 11 August in close collaboration with the Government to address emergency needs and to prevent further impact on the 300 000 people most affected by protracted drought. The Response Plan is complementary to the extensive efforts of the Government. Strategic priorities include rapid provision of humanitarian assistance, strengthening resilience to future drought and climate change, assisting in the return process and ensuring socio-economic stability among the worst affected groups.
Challenges facing agriculture and livelihoods
The northeast and Badia region is inhabited by the Syrian Arab Republic’s most vulnerable and agriculture-dependent families. Small-scale farmers and herders have been hardest hit by the drought and largely depend on livestock and crop production for their subsistence. Drought is among the country’s most serious environmental problems. Three-quarters of cultivated land depends on rainfall, as do rangelands and the recharge of groundwater for irrigation.
Many farmers experienced continual total crop failure for two years. In May/June 2009, an interagency assessment estimated that 200 000 farming households have been affected, of which over 70 percent have attained minimal or no yields. This means that these families have lacked food for household consumption and sale for an extended period of time, leading to deteriorated health and increased food and livelihood insecurity. Barren grazing pastures and a 75 percent rise in animal feed costs have led to the loss of over 80 percent of animals belonging to small- and medium-scale herders.
Animal mortality has risen by up to 30 percent, alongside a drop in fertility rates of 60 percent. Flocks are being further reduced as herders have increasingly sold surviving animals as meat, at a small fraction of their value. Support is thus urgently needed to protect and diversify the livelihoods of vulnerable communities affected by the current drought, and to increase resilience to climate-related shocks, as pressure on arable land, water and income is likely to rise in the future.
The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) is appealing for USD 13.3 million under theSyria Drought Response Plan 2009to support ongoing efforts of the Government in addressing the most urgent needs and increasing the resilience of drought-affected communities. FAO’s proposed response to time-critical requirements:
- ensuring access to seed by the most drought-affected farmers through distribution of wheat, barley and legume seeds in time for the planting season (October); and
- safeguarding the remaining asset base of small-scale herders through the rapid provision of animal feed and sheep restocking.
FAO’s proposed response to promote stabilization and resilience:
- development of a National Early Warning System for drought with emphasis on rangeland and marginal areas; and
- building national capacity to implement the National Drought Strategy and resources for improved drought adaptation/preparedness, mitigation, response and recovery.