Experts worry that Syrians will have increasing problems accessing food in the coming months, as prices rise, conflict disrupts supply lines, dwindling finances strain subsidies and imports face challenges.
Nearly one year of unrest in Syria has made it difficult for aid workers to assess the exact food needs in the country, but the little information that does exist suggests that the accessibility and affordability of food are already shrinking, while the availability of food could also become a problem later this year.
“Life in Syria has become harsh,” an inhabitant of Sanhaya, a Damascus suburb, told IRIN. “Electricity is cut off up to six hours a day, sometimes more. Heating oil and fuel are very difficult to find,” he added.
A resident of central Damascus told IRIN bread has become difficult to find, especially in the evening. Milk, `labneh’ (a soft, spreadable, yogurt-like cheese), cheese and olive oil can also be hard to find, he said.
In its latest update on global food security published on 10 February, the UN World Food Programme (WFP) said 1.4 million people have become food insecure since March 2011, when a popular uprising against President Bashar al-Assad spurred a violent crackdown by government forces, which has killed at least 5,400 people, according to the UN Refugee Agency. Food insecurity is focused in “hotspots” like Homs, Hama, rural Damascus, Dera’a and Idlib, WFP said.
“The situation is too volatile and the information coming out of Syria too patchy for us to take a meaningful view of the impacts on food security at this stage,” Nicholas Jacobs, media officer for the UN special rapporteur on the right to food, told IRIN.
Similarly, WFP has been unable to do a comprehensive food security assessment, including finding out what, if anything, is lacking in the markets.
“The situation is very fragile now for asking questions,” said one aid worker who preferred anonymity.
The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Global Information and Early Warning System (GIEWS) said in October that the prolonged unrest was causing disruptions in food distribution channels, leading to localized shortages in several markets.
The case of Homs
The city of Homs, which has been under siege for more than two weeks, is one of the most affected.
“There are no commercial activities. The city is closed,” said Saleh Dabbakeh, spokesperson of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in Syria, which, along with the Syrian Arab Red Crescent Society (SARCS), is delivering food to people in Homs. “If you cannot leave your house for a week… if the shop is closed or the shop owner is unable to leave to get food… how can you have food?”
A resident of the Al-Kosoor neighbourhood of Homs, which is still controlled by government forces and not the rebel Free Syrian Army (FSA) which has taken control of other parts of the city, said people began storing food at the beginning of the siege, but supplies are running low. Most bakeries are closed and people have to wait in line for hours to find bread, he said.
"We lack everything,” he told IRIN by phone. "We rely on cans and stored food, like lentils and beans, to survive, as the regime has closed the access to the city, preventing new arrivals of supplies.”