UNITED NATIONS — Syria’s harrowing civil war has taken a new turn as the beleaguered Mid East country now faces a deepening drought and food crisis in the midst of an expanding conflict.
UN relief agencies warn that the drought may cut food production thus adding to the country’s woes.
With over nine million Syrian civilians already refugees or internally displaced since the conflict started three years ago, the UN’s World Food Program (WFP) warns that “Low production scenarios combined with the ongoing conflict, will further strain Syria’s already fragile food security situation. The main implications are an increased dependence on imports at a time when Syria’s import capacity is severely diminished by the collapse of real economic growth.”
Economists state that growth has been in a free fall with an almost 19 percent annual drop.
In a troubling new report on the drought and food security, the WFP states, “During the decade preceding the conflict, drought had been the main event causing significant losses to the national wheat and barley production; since 2012, the civil war has had a market impact on the Syrian cereal production capacity.”
Even optimistic figures reveal that this year’s projected wheat production would be about two million tons, a fall of 17 percent from last year.
WFP’s coordinator for Syria, Muhannad Hadi said, “It has taken a massive effort from WFP and partners to reach 4 million people in March, but we fear now that a possible drought, if rainfall doesn’t pick up, could put the lives of millions more at risk.” He added, “Syria suffered from five years of drought right before the conflict broke out and vulnerable communities in affected areas hardly had time to recover before they were hit by the conflict.”
Tragically, some of the worst affected conflict areas such as Aleppo and Hama, account for about half of the wheat production. According to relief agencies, more than six million Syrians may need emergency food aid, up from the current number of just over four million people.
Yet as the conflict churns on between the Assad family dictatorship, backed by Russia and Iran, and a gaggle of rebel groups , many of them Islamic fundamentalists and Al Qaida affiliates, a political settlement looms as elusive as ever. The UN Security Council, in diplomatic deadlock between the West and Russia/China concerning Syria, has frozen further in the wake of the Ukraine crisis.
Secretary General Ban Ki-moon stated, that he is “extremely concerned that groups listed as terrorist organizations by the United Nations Security Council continue to brutalize the civilian population”. He added that the tragic killing of a Dutch Catholic priest, Father Frans van der Lugt, SJ., who was shot by an unknown gunman, was an “inhumane act of violence.”
The 75 year-old priest had been living in Syria for over forty years and had refused to leave the besieged city of Homs.
The Syrian civil war has seen a deliberate targeting of the country’s ancient Christian minority by some rebel groups. Despite being out of the headlines, the conflict continues with at least 140,000 people killed in the past three years.
And beyond the widening refugee spill over into neighboring countries especially Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan, there’s the acute danger from foreign rebels returning to Europe and spreading terror. United Kingdom intelligence agencies estimates cite hundreds of British nationals who are currently fighting alongside the Syrian rebels, as presenting a radicalized and trained terrorist threat to the UK upon their return from the Middle East. The Syrian war serves as a magnet to home-grown Islamic militants throughout Europe.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon stated unequivocally, “There is a belief by too many in Syria and beyond that this conflict can be won militarily. More violence will only bring more suffering and instability to Syria and sow chaos in the region.”
Tragically this war will not end until there’s the exhaustion of all parties to the conflict who will then grudgingly concede to a peace settlement.
John J. Metzler is a U.N. correspondent covering diplomatic and defense issues. He writes weekly for WorldTribune.com. He is the author of Transatlantic Divide ; USA/Euroland Rift (University Press, 2010).