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Three million Syrians need food, crops and livestock assistance

Food security needs assessment for Syria

Photo: ©FAO
FAO distributing sheep to female-headed households.

2 August 2012, Damascus/Rome - Close to three million people are in need of food, crops and livestock assistance, according to a recent assessment carried out by the United Nations and the Syrian government.

Of this number, around 1.5 million people need urgent and immediate food assistance over the next 3 to 6 months, especially in areas that have seen the greatest conflict and population displacement. Close to a million people need crop and livestock assistance such as seeds, food for animals, fuel and repair of irrigation pumps. Further scaling up of food and livelihoods assistance will be required over the next 12 months as the people needing nutritional support are expected to reach 3 million.

The findings are based on a Joint Rapid Food Security Needs Assessment mission conducted in June 2012 by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the UN World Food Programme (WFP) and Syria's Ministry of Agriculture and Agrarian Reform.

The joint mission's final report says the Syrian agricultural sector has lost a total of $1.8 billion this year as a result of the on-going crisis. This includes losses and damages to crops, livestock and irrigation systems. Strategic crops, such as wheat and barley, have been badly affected as well as cherry and olive trees, and vegetable production.

"While the economic implications of these losses are quite grave, the humanitarian implications are far more pressing," said WFP Representative in Syria Muhannad Hadi."The effects of these major losses are first, and most viciously, felt by the poorest in the country. Most of the vulnerable families the mission visited reported less income and more expenditure - their lives becoming more difficult by the day," he said.

The assessment reports that as many as three million people are in need of assistance over the next 12 months. Large numbers of rural people of the central, coastal, eastern, northeastern and southern governorates were found to have totally or partially lost their farming assets and livestock-based livelihoods and businesses due to the on-going political crisis and insecurity, coupled with a prolonged drought.

Among those farmers needing immediate assistance, around one third of the rural population, 5 to 10 percent are reported to be female-headed households.

"The most vulnerable families in Syria depend entirely or partly on agriculture and farm animals for food and income. They need emergency support, like seeds, repairs to irrigation systems, animal feed and healthcare," said Abdulla BinYehia, FAO Representative in Syria. "If timely assistance is not provided, the livelihood system of these vulnerable people could simply collapse in a few months' time. Winter is fast approaching and urgent action is needed before then."

Farmers have been forced to either abandon farming or leave standing crops unattended due to the unavailability of labour, the lack of fuel and the rise in fuel costs, and insecurity, as well as power cuts affecting water supply. Harvesting of wheat has been delayed in the Governorates of Daar'a, Rural Damascus, Homs and Hama. There is, thus, a great risk of losing part of the crop if there is further delay in providing assistance to these farmers.

The assessment mission also found that deforestation was on the rise with farmers turning back to the forest for fire wood due to unavailability of cooking gas and fuel. Some irrigation channels have also been clogged and damaged due to lack of labour and inaccessibility.

Far-reaching effects

Particular attention needs to be given to female-headed households and migrant workers, small farmers, Bedouins and herders. The livelihoods of migrant labourers in their places of origin is at serious risk due to lack of employment opportunities and the fast depletion of their income. The sharp drop in remittances to rural households was also another blow to an already vulnerable population, especially in the northeastern and northern governorates.

Daar'a Governorate counted on remittances of nearly 200,000 migrant workers, reported the return of nearly 70 percent of its labour force. A few families said they still have their men in Lebanon but were unable to send any remittance due to unemployment there.

With less or no income and very little savings, high recurring expenses, many mouths to feed, and fast depleting resources, these families are cutting the size and number of meals, eating cheaper lower quality food, buying food on credit, taking children out of school and sending them for work, selling livestock and other assets, and cutting back medical and education expenses.

Hadi said that during the mission visit to Al Hassakeh "even the richest family in a village reported having food stock for only one more month."

WFP launched an emergency operation that started in October 2011 to cover the food needs of vulnerable people affected by the events in Syria. The operation progressively scaled up, reaching 540,000 people in July and aims to reach 850,000 people this month. WFP plans to further expand the operation as access to the affected areas allows. WFP's Syria operation is facing a funding shortfall of around $62 million on an overall budget of $103 million.

FAO has provided support since December 2011 to 9,052 small herders and farmers' households, representing some 82,000 people. FAO estimates that now around $38 million are required immediately for the next six months to help 112,500 rural households, or about 900,000 people, to ensure the autumn planting for cereals and keep livestock alive or replace lost ones.

A joint FAO/WFP news release