FAO sounds alarm bells over hunger in Syria

Access to food, water and fuel is reported to have become increasingly difficult in several areas

ROME - Civil unrest is putting 1.4 million people at risk from hunger in Syria, which must raise cereal imports by around a third to offset a loss in local output, the United Nations' food agency said Wednesday.
"Continued civil unrest in the Syrian Arab Republic since mid-March 2011 has raised serious concern over the state of food security, particularly for vulnerable groups," the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) said.
The agency said that last year's cereal production in Syria -- estimated at 4.2 million tonnes -- was about 10 percent less than the previous five years' average, following late and erratic rains and widespread civil unrest.
"In several areas, it is reported that civil insecurity prevented farmers to access their farmland during the harvest," it said.
Around 1.4 million people have been put at risk of going hungry since the crisis began, mainly in Homs, Hama, Damascus, Daraa and Idleb, according to the World Food Programme (WFP).
Tens of thousands of people have already fled to neighbouring countries and access to food, water and fuel is reported to have become increasingly difficult in several areas, the FAO said.
Syria, which relies on food imports for almost half of its domestic use, should import around 4.0 million tonnes of wheat for food use and maize and barley for feed -- about 1 million tonnes more than the previous year, it said.
"An estimated 300,000 small farmers and herders in northeastern provinces, who have already suffered four consecutive seasons of drought, are also affected by the loss of opportunities from seasonal labour migration to the south and east," the FAO said.
"In addition, the unrest is affecting pastoralists by restricting mobility of herds, with negative effects on access to water and pasture, and reducing
access to veterinary drugs and other supplies," it added.