At least four, and potentially over ten, million Syrians need emergency food support, according to a new report from the humanitarian group Save The Children. It’s a stark reminder that the harm done to the Syrian people by its brutal civil war goes far, far beyond the use of chemical weapons.
Save the Children traces the food crisis back to its source: violence in Syria’s agricultural heartland. “Despite good rains,” the report finds, “2013 was the worst harvest since a major drought nearly 30 years ago,” owing in large part to violence in the area east of Aleppo that traditionally feeds the country. Sieges and urban warfare in major cities compounds the shortage, creating the worst crises in the country’s most populated areas.
International relief isn’t helping enough yet. “In huge swathes of the country –- some 79% of surveyed sub-districts –- people are facing tremendous diﬃculty in accessing humanitarian relief,” Save the Children reports. Reports of soldiers interdicting aid distribution at checkpoints are common.
The crisis is wrenchingly human. “There are still many families inside,” Jamila, a woman who escaped to the border, told Save the Children. “They can’t move, they can’t leave. there’s nothing for them. Shops are looted and supplies cannot get in. there is no medicine, no food, no clean water. they can’t get to the farms to take any fruit or potatoes that are left. no-one can enter the town to bring supplies. So those families are already dead.”
Absent some kind of peace agreement or total military victory by one side, no one’s quite sure what to do to solve this problem. Increasing aid could theoretically help, but since a large part of the problem is the distribution of existing aid, that wouldn’t fix things. Both Save the Children’s report and a similar paper by researchers at the Center for Strategic and International Studies recommend a renewed diplomatic push by interested great powers, particularly Russia and the United States, to develop a plan to address the growing humanitarian crisis. That might include outside powers who have a stake in the conflict pressuring their respective allies to begin protecting groups attempting to distribute humanitarian aid throughout the country.
One humanitarian crisis that can be more easily addressed, by contrast, is the growing Syrian refugee problem. Only 44 percent of the UN-requested $4.4 billion in refugee assistance has been provided, leaving the roughly two million Syrian refugees who have fled to nearby countries in the lurch.
During an address to the UN General Assembly today, President Obama announced another $339 million in humanitarian aid for Syria.