Russia’s veto of Syrian border aid could spell disaster for Idlib

Idlib, Syria – In Syria, famine threatens again.

The country, now in its 11th year of war, was designated one of the world’s 20 “hunger hotspots” by the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Food Programme (WFP) in early June.

The reasons are local and international, but the result is that the groups have warned that unless serious humanitarian action is taken, “severe hunger” will be widespread across the country.

held by the opposition idlib governorateIn northwestern Syria, the situation is extremely dangerous as a direct result of the humanitarian situation faced by people living in densely populated areas, many of whom have been displaced and are living in refugee camps.

Bread is getting more expensive, and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has severely restricted grain exports from Ukraine, which Syria relies heavily on.

In turn, the price of imported flour rose from $300 a ton to $580 last year, according to local traders.

However, things could get worse.

Russia can exercise veto at UN Security Council and block extension despite request from UN Secretary-General António Guterres mechanism This allows aid to pass through Bab al-Hawa, the only border crossing that allows aid to enter opposition-controlled territory without first entering territory controlled by the Syrian government.

That would mean more government restraints on opposition areas such as Idlib and further price increases.

A vote in the Security Council is expected on 10 July.

food production

UN aid through Bab al-Hawa is the main source of free bread for thousands of internally displaced persons (IDPs) living in refugee camps.

“The humanitarian crisis in Syria is getting bigger and bigger,” Mark Katz, the UN’s deputy regional humanitarian coordinator for the Syrian crisis, told Al Jazeera. “More people in Syria need humanitarian assistance now than ever before.”

Locally, food production has also declined since 2020 as the opposition lost territory to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces.

Agriculture is also limited to the plains near the demarcation line between government forces, which residents say regularly attack farmland with artillery and missiles, destroying crops.

This year in particular, farmers have complained of significantly lower grain yields.

They include Ahmed Jarjanazi, 53, who lives with his family in the Atmeh IDP camp near the Syrian-Turkish border.

“This year’s grain production is very low compared to previous years, with the yield per mu [0.4 hectare] This year it was 100 to 300 kilograms, and last year it was 500 to 800 kilograms,” Jarjanazi told Al Jazeera.

Idlib’s wheat fields are often targeted by Syrian government forces [Ali Haj Suleiman/Al Jazeera]

Jarjanazi added that farming and harvesting costs have doubled this year from last year due to high fertilizer and fuel prices, ukraine war.

effects of drought

According to Anas al-Rahmoun, a Syrian agricultural engineer, the reason for this year’s low harvest is the climate, which started the winter significantly drier than usual.

“The authorities and international organisations should further encourage and support food production by providing what is needed,” al-Rahmoun told Al Jazeera. “[They] Research centres in northwestern Syria could be supported to produce the types of grains that can survive the region’s climate, making them more drought tolerant and able to grow beyond the plains. “

Al-Rahmoun added that food production is related to rainfall in both quantity and distribution.

This year’s winter saw continuous rains, but a prolonged dry spell followed, affecting food production, especially in April, when rainfall stopped for a significant part of the planting process.

For all these reasons, northwestern Syria, with a population of at least 4 million, including 2.7 million internally displaced persons, is on the brink of true famine.

The United Nations says 90 percent of Syrians now live below the poverty line, and the World Food Program estimates that three-fifths of Syrians face food insecurity.

Mohammad Haraj, head of the Syrian Response Coordination Group, told Al Jazeera that ensuring bread is now a heavy burden for ordinary Syrians in the region. The average household needs up to three bags of bread per day, costing 15 TL ($0.86) per day and 450 TL ($26) per month.

However, local temporary workers only bring in 1,000 Turkish lira ($58) a month, with little to no money for other necessities.

Those without income struggle even more.

In the camps, many rely on free bread provided by humanitarian organizations.

Some of them have has stopped distributing bread due to high production costs.

“The disruption of imports of flour, the main ingredient in bread … will lead to unbelievable food security problems and will lead to unprecedented levels of hunger,” Haraj said. “We are on the brink of famine in the coming period, which will gradually come as the price of bread rises.”

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