Syrians in urgent need of aid hit hard by precipitation in Ukraine

BEIRUT (AP) — Umm Khaled barely leaves her tent where she lives in northwestern Syria, and she says she pays no 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 gone up, and this has been happening to us since the war in Ukraine started,” said the 40-year-old, who has lived in a tented camp for displaced persons in Syria’s last rebel enclave for the past six years since fleeing from Syria. a government offensive.

Food prices around the world are already rising, but the war in Ukraine has accelerated the increase since the Russian invasion began on February 24. The impact exacerbates the already dangerous situation of millions of Syrians displaced from their homes by their country’s 11-year-old civil war.

The rebel enclave in Syria’s northwestern province of Idlib is home to some 4 million people, most of whom have fled elsewhere in the country. Most depend on international aid for survival, from food and shelter to medical care and education.

Due to rising prices, some aid organizations are scaling back their food aid. Its largest supplier, the UN’s World Food Programme, this week began reducing the monthly rations it gives to 1.35 million people in the area.

The Ukraine crisis has also created a whole new group of refugees† European countries and the US have rushed to help more than 5.5 million Ukrainians who have fled to neighboring countries, as well as more than 7 million displaced people within Ukraine’s borders.

Aid agencies hope to draw some of the world’s attention back to Syria during a two-day donor conference for humanitarian aid to Syrians starting Monday in Brussels, organized by the UN and the European Union. The funding will also go to aid the 5.7 million Syrian refugees living in neighboring countries, most notably Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan.

Last year, the EU, the United States and other countries pledged $6.4 billion to help Syrians and neighboring countries hosting refugees. But that was far less than the $10 billion the UN had sought — and the impact was felt on the ground. In Idlib, 10 out of 50 medical centers lost their funding by 2022, forcing them to drastically cut back on services, Amnesty International said in a report released Thursday.

Across Syria, people have been forced to eat less, the Norwegian Refugee Council said. The group surveyed hundreds of families across the country and found that 87% skipped meals to cover other living expenses.

“While the humanitarian crisis in Ukraine continues to draw the world’s attention, donors and governments meeting in Brussels must not forget their commitment to Syria,” Carsten Hansen, NRC’s regional director for the Middle East, said in a report on Thursday.

The UN children’s agency UNICEF said more than 6.5 million children in Syria are in need of assistance, the highest number since the start of the conflict. It said more than 13,000 children have been killed or injured since 2011.

Meanwhile, UNICEF said funding for humanitarian operations in Syria is declining rapidly and says it has received less than half of its funding needs for this year. “We urgently need nearly $20 million for the cross-border operations” in Syria, the agency said in a statement.

Umm Khaled is one of those who depend on food aid. Now that her aid rations have been reduced, she has fallen deeper into debt to feed her family.

Her husband and eldest son were killed in a 2016 Syrian government airstrike in their home city of Aleppo. Shortly afterwards, she fled with her three surviving children to the rebel enclave in Idlib province. Since then, they have been living in a tent camp with other displaced persons on the outskirts of the city of Atmeh, near the Turkish border.

Her family lives on two meals a day — a small breakfast and a main meal late in the afternoon that serves as lunch and dinner. Her only income is picking olives for a few weeks a year, earning 20 Turkish lira ($1.35) a day.

“We used to get enough rice, bulgur, lentils and the like. Now they continue to reduce it,” she said by phone from the camp. She spoke on the condition that her full name not be made public, fearing repercussions. She lives with her two daughters, aged six and 16, and a 12-year-old son, who suffered head and arm injuries in the strike that killed his brother and father.

According to the aid group Mercy Corps, the price of essential foodstuffs in northwestern Syria has already risen by 22% to 67% since the start of the conflict in Ukraine. There were also shortages of sunflower oil, sugar and flour.

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

“Even before the war in Ukraine, bread was becoming increasingly unaffordable,” said Mercy Corps Syria Country Director, Kieren Barnes. The vast majority of wheat brought to northwestern Syria is of Ukrainian origin and the area does not produce enough wheat for its own needs.

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

In many of its operations around the world, WFP is reducing the size of the rations it provides, she said. As of this month, commissions in northwestern Syria will drop to 1,177 calories per day, from 1,340. The food basket will continue to provide a mix of commodities, including wheat flour, rice, chickpeas, lentils, bulgur, sugar and oil.

Rising prices have increased the cost of WFP’s food aid by 51% since 2019, and those costs are likely to increase as the impact of the crisis is felt in Ukraine, Etefa said.

Earlier in the year, before the conflict in Ukraine started, a 29% increase in costs caused Czech aid organization People in Need to switch from providing food parcels to giving food stamps. The vouchers, worth $60, buy less food than the group’s target level, but it was supposed to make the move to “maximize food aid coverage to the most vulnerable,” a spokesperson told The Associated Press.

As the world turns to other conflicts, “Syria is poised to become another forgotten crisis,” UN Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Joyce Msuya warned in late April.

In northwestern Syria, “as many as 4.1 million people” are in need of humanitarian assistance, Msuya said — not just food, but medicines, blankets, school supplies and shelter. She said nearly a million people in the area, mostly women and children, live in tents, “half of whom have exceeded their normal lifespans.”

Many fear the situation could only get worse in July as Russia could force international aid into the northwest through parts of Syria controlled by its ally, President Bashar Assad.

Aid is currently entering the Idlib enclave directly from Turkey through a single border crossing, Bab al-Hawa. The UN mandate allowing deliveries through Bab al-Hawa expires on July 9, and Russia has hinted it will veto a Security Council resolution extending the mandate.

A Russian veto would effectively put Assad in control of the flow of aid to the opposition enclave and the US and EU had previously warned in that case they stop financing.

The result will be a serious humanitarian crisis, likely to trigger a new influx of Syrian migrants to Turkey and Europe, the German Institute for International and Security Affairs warned in a report.

Umm Khaled said she has no choice but to endure her deteriorating living conditions.

“They keep shrinking our food basket,” she said. “May God protect us if they cut it all off.”

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