Syrians in desperate need of aid hit hard by Ukraine fallout


PTI | Beirut | Updated: 08-05-2022 16:01 IST | Created: 08-05-2022 15:55 IST
Syrians in desperate need of aid hit hard by Ukraine fallout
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Umm Khaled hardly leaves the tent where she lives in northwest Syria, and she says she doesn't pay attention to the news. But she knows one reason why it is getting harder and harder to feed herself and her children: Ukraine.

"Prices have been going up, and this has been happening to us since the war in Ukraine started," said the 40-year-old, who has lived in a tent camp for displaced people in the last rebel-held enclave in Syria for the past six years since fleeing a government offensive.

Food prices around the world were already rising, but the war in Ukraine has accelerated the increase since Russia's invasion began on February 24.

The impact is worsening the already dangerous situation of millions of Syrians driven from their homes by their country's now 11-year-old civil war.

The rebel enclave in Syria's northwest province of Idlib is packed with some four million people, most of whom fled there from elsewhere in the country.

Most rely on international aid to survive, for everything from food and shelter to medical care and education.

Because of rising prices, some aid agencies are scaling back their food assistance.

The biggest provider, the UN World Food Programme, began this week to cut the size of the monthly rations it gives to 1.35 million people in the territory.

The Ukraine crisis has also created a whole new group of refugees. European nations and the US have rushed to help more than 5.5 million Ukrainians who have fled to neighboring countries, as well as more than seven million displaced within Ukraine's borders.

Aid agencies are hoping to draw some of the world's attention back to Syria in a two-day donor conference for humanitarian aid to Syrians that begins on Monday in Brussels, hosted by the UN and the European Union.

The funding also goes toward aid to the 5.7 million Syrian refugees living in neighboring countries, particularly Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan.

Last year, the EU, the US, and other nations pledged USD 6.4 billion to help Syrians and neighboring countries hosting refugees. But that fell well short of the USD 10 billion that the UN had sought — and the impact was felt on the ground.

In Idlib, 10 of its 50 medical centers lost funding in 2022, forcing them to dramatically cut back services, Amnesty International said in a report released on Thursday.

Across Syria, people have been forced to eat less, the Norwegian Refugee Council said. The group surveyed several hundred families around the country and found that 87 percent were skipping meals to meet other living costs.

"While the humanitarian crisis in Ukraine continues to demand world attention, donors and governments meeting in Brussels must not forget about their commitment to Syria," NRC's Mideast Regional Director Carsten Hansen said in a report on Thursday.

The UN's children's agency UNICEF said more than 6.5 million children in Syria require assistance calling it the highest recorded since the conflict began. It said that since 2011, over 13,000 children have been confirmed killed or injured.

Meanwhile, UNICEF said funding for humanitarian operations in Syria is dwindling fast, saying it has received less than half of its funding requirements for this year.

"We urgently need nearly USD 20 million for the cross-border operations" in Syria, the agency said in a statement.

The price of essential food items in northwest Syria has already increased by between 22 percent and 67 percent since the start of the Ukraine conflict, according to the aid group Mercy Corps. There have also been shortages in sunflower oil, sugar, and flour.

Mercy Corps provides cash assistance to displaced Syrians to buy food and other needs and it says it has no plans to reduce the amount.

"Even before the war in Ukraine, bread was already becoming increasingly unaffordable," said Mercy Corps Syria Country Director, Kieren Barnes.

The vast majority of wheat brought into northwest Syria is of Ukrainian origin, and the territory doesn't produce enough wheat for its own needs.

"The world is witnessing a year of catastrophic hunger with a huge gap between the resources and the needs of the millions of people around the world," said WFP spokeswoman Abeer Etefa.

In many of its operations around the world, WFP is reducing the size of the rations it provides, she said.

Starting this month in northwest Syria, the provisions will go down to 1,177 calories a day, from 1,340. The food basket will continue to provide a mix of commodities, including wheat flour, rice, chickpeas, lentils, bulgur wheat, sugar, and oil.

Earlier in the year, before the Ukraine conflict began, a 29 percent jump in costs prompted the Czech aid agency People in Need to switch from providing food packages to giving food vouchers.

As the world turns to other conflicts, "Syria is on the verge of becoming yet another forgotten crisis," Assistant UN Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Joyce Msuya warned in late April.

In northwest Syria, "a staggering 4.1 million people" need humanitarian aid, Msuya said — not just food, but also medicines, blankets, school supplies, and shelter. She said almost a million people in the territory, mainly women and children, live in tents, "half of which are beyond their normal lifespan."

(This story has not been edited by Devdiscourse staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

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