The Syrian Food War
By: Rami Zurayk
Published Friday, August 10, 2012
The Syrian crisis dominates headlines in local and international media. The numbers of victims, military operations, fighters and kidnapped are closely monitored.
Figures are published by any number of observatories or government departments. We are being bombarded by information that cannot be verified.
But there are figures that we seldom hear about, despite the fact that they warn of a great disaster.
Here is an example from a survey recently carried out by the UN. In Syria today, there are one and a half million citizens in urgent need of emergency food supplies. Most are in the conflict areas and therefore might be difficult to reach. They are mainly rural people, living in remote villages.
In addition, there are one million farmers and livestock owners who are short of the basic materials needed to carry out their work this year. This will certainly contribute to making the food shortage worse.
The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates losses in the Syrian agriculture sector to be almost two billion dollars. They say that there is an urgent need for 38 million dollars to help farmers cultivate their land, otherwise the sector will collapse - and with it, food security.
The World Food Program (WFP), whose budget for Syria this year is 103 million dollars, is suffering from a deficit estimated at 62 million dollars.
What makes the shortage worse is that a large number of Syrians who work in Lebanon have returned to their villages to look after their families. Their numbers can reach 70 percent in places like Daraa, for example.
The agricultural sector is the backbone of any country. Rich Western countries have understood this, and they subsidize their sectors with billions of dollars. This is also what we learned in Iraq, where the occupation destroyed the agriculture sector and replaced it with the “oil for food” program, sending food production techniques in Iraq back to how they were in the time before the Industrial Revolution.
Money is pouring into Syria to buy weapons and to feed the war. But is there anyone who cares about Syria enough to stop its agriculture from disappearing?
Rami Zurayk is Al-Akhbar's environment columnist and author of the blog Land and People.
The views expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect Al-Akhbar's editorial policy.
This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.