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Four million people are affected by the ongoing crisis in Syria and urgently need humanitarian assistance – a fourfold increase since March 2012. Half are internally displaced, while a further million have fled to neighbouring countries. Millions are facing harsh winter conditions without adequate shelter, heating, food, water, medical care and other vital supplies and services. The Syria crisis was declared a Level 3 emergency by the United Nations (UN) Emergency Relief Coordinator on 15 January 2013, activating a system-wide UN response to ensure coordinated, timely and effective humanitarian assistance.
Food insecurity on the rise
Food security is a critical and growing concern across Syria. In just six months, the number of people at risk of food insecurity increased by 33 percent – from 3 million people in June to 4 million in December 2012. The situation is worsening: family food stocks are depleting; unemployment is rising; food prices continue to soar; and government subsidies for basic food items, such as bread, have ceased in many areas. The production of staple food has suffered greatly, with 2012 wheat production amounting to only 63 percent of the average yearly harvest. Such declines in food production are a major concern as it may increase Syria’s food import requirements – which already account for around half of domestic food needs.
Agriculture matters now
The crisis is having a tremendous impact on agriculture, affecting almost all aspects of national food production and family access to food. In rural areas – home to nearly half the population – four out of five people depend on agriculture for their livelihood. Day by day, more people are losing the means to provide for themselves and becoming increasingly vulnerable.
In many areas, farmers have stopped cultivating or tending to their crops due to violence and inability to access or afford basic farming inputs, such as seeds and fertilizers. Likewise, herders cannot access grazing areas, veterinary services and related supplies. Unable to cope with hikes in animal feed prices, many are forced to sell their livestock at reduced prices. These constraints are seriously impacting lives, as many crisis-affected families depend on crop and livestock production as a main source of food and income.
Affected pastoralists urgently need animal feed to keep their animals alive, particularly through the lean season during winter and early spring. FAO seeks to provide more families with animal feed, access to veterinary supplies and livelihood packages to raise poultry – a rapid and sustainable source of protein and income from eggs and meat. Where security conditions allow, farmers need seeds and fertilizer to resume crop production. In rural, urban and peri-urban areas, backyard vegetable gardening and small animal breeding will increase access to nutrient rich foods for home use and sale on local markets.