The Syrian Arab Republic suffers from limited rainfall and scarcity of water resources, but despite these difficult conditions, agricultural production has increased notably during the last decades. Syria is a middle-income country.
The Human Development Index increased considerably during the last 25-year period, but about one fifth of Syrian people still live below the national poverty line.
Constant progress has been made in maternal and child health services leading to a significant reduction in infant and maternal mortality, and to a very good level of immunization. Nevertheless, diarrheal diseases are still among the main causes of death of children, particularly in rural areas where access to health services but also to clean water and adequate sanitation are more limited.
The dietary energy supply largely fulfils population energy requirements. Food diversification is increasing but is still insufficient, as staple foods such as cereals, vegetable oils and sugar still provide almost three-quarters of dietary energy. The dietary supply of lipids, representing 30% of energy, is at the upper limit of recommendations. Increasing urbanization induces changes in the diet. The high energy density of the diet contributes to the development of overweight and obesity in adults.
Rates of breastfeeding and exclusive breastfeeding are very high, but progress is needed in complementary feeding. Despite achievements in health care, the prevalence of undernutrition in pre-school children is not declining. In 2001, one-quarter of preschool children were stunted and more than one out of ten remained underweight. The Eastern region was the most affected by undernutrition. At the same time, the country is undergoing a nutrition transition and a high prevalence of overweight and obesity was observed among adult women.
Micronutrient deficiencies remain an important public health problem. Iodine deficiency was highly prevalent in the 1990s, but an effective programme of iodization of salt is now in place. High prevalences of iron deficiency anemia affect preschool children and women, but more data are needed to better define the vulnerable areas of the country, and more widespread and systematic interventions are needed.