Umm Khaled barely leaves the tent where she lives in northwestern Syria and says she doesn’t pay attention to the news. But she knows one reason why it’s getting 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 enclave in Syria for the past six years since he fled a government crackdown.
Food prices around the world were already on the rise, but the war in Ukraine has accelerated the rise since Russia’s invasion began on February 24. The shock is worsening the already dangerous situation for millions of Syrians driven from their homes for the now 11 years of their country. -old civil war.
The rebel enclave in Syria’s northwestern Idlib province is packed with some 4 million people, most of whom fled there from other parts of the country. Most depend on international aid to survive, from food and shelter to health care and education.
Due to rising prices, some aid agencies are reducing their food assistance. The biggest supplier, the UN World Food Programme, began this week to reduce the size of the monthly rations it provides to 1.35 million people in the territory.
The Ukraine crisis has also created a 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 7 million displaced within Ukraine’s borders.
Aid agencies hope to draw some of the world’s attention to Syria at a two-day donor conference for humanitarian aid to Syrians that starts Monday in Brussels, organized by the UN and the European Union. The funding also goes to help the 5.7 million Syrian refugees living in neighboring countries, notably Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan.
Last year, the European Union, the United States and other nations pledged $6.4 billion to help Syrians and neighboring countries hosting refugees. But that fell well short of the $10 billion 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 drastically cut services, Amnesty International said in a report published on Thursday.
Across Syria, people have been forced to eat less, the Norwegian Refugee Council said. The group surveyed several hundred families across the country and found that 87 percent skipped meals to cover other costs of living.
“While the humanitarian crisis in Ukraine continues to demand global attention, donors and governments gathered in Brussels must not forget their commitment to Syria,” NRC Middle East regional director Carsten Hansen 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 recorded since the conflict began. He said that since 2011, more than 13,000 children have been confirmed dead or injured.
Meanwhile, UNICEF said funding for humanitarian operations in Syria is rapidly declining and said it has received less than half of its funding needs for this year. “We urgently need nearly $20 million for cross-border operations” in Syria, the agency said in a statement.
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Umm Khaled is among those dependent on food aid. With his aid rations reduced, he has gone deeper into debt to feed his family.
Her husband and eldest son were killed in a Syrian government airstrike in her hometown of Aleppo in 2016. Soon after, she escaped with her three surviving children to the rebel enclave in Idlib province. Since then, they have lived in a tent camp with other displaced people on the outskirts of the town of Atmeh, near the Turkish border.
His family lives on two meals a day: a small breakfast and a main meal in the late afternoon that serves as lunch and dinner. Her only income comes from picking olives for a few weeks a year, earning 20 Turkish Liras ($1.35) a day.
“We used to have enough rice, bulgur, lentils and others. Now they keep cutting them down,” 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, ages 6 and 16, and her 12-year-old son, who suffered head and arm injuries in the attack that killed her brother and her father.
The price of essential food in northwestern Syria has already risen between 22 percent and 67 percent since the start of the conflict in Ukraine, according to aid group Mercy Corps. There have also been shortages of sunflower oil, sugar and flour.
Mercy Corps provides 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 already becoming more and more unaffordable,” said Kieren Barnes, country director for Mercy Corps Syria. The vast majority of the wheat brought into northwest Syria is of Ukrainian origin and the territory 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 the needs of 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, he said. Starting this month in northwestern Syria, provisions will drop to 1,177 calories a day, from 1,340. The food basket will continue to provide a mix of staples, including wheat flour, rice, chick peas, lentils, bulgur, sugar, and oil.
Rising prices have increased the cost of WFP food assistance by 51 percent since 2019 and that cost is likely to rise further as the impact of the Ukraine crisis is felt, Etefa said.
Earlier in the year, before the Ukraine conflict began, a 29 percent rise in costs caused the Czech aid agency People in Need to switch from delivering food parcels to food stamps. The coupons, worth $60, buy less food than the group’s target level, but it had to take the step to “maximize its food assistance coverage for the most vulnerable,” a spokesman told The Associated Press.
As the world turns to other conflicts, “Syria is about to become another forgotten crisis,” UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Joyce Msuya warned in late April.
In northwestern Syria, “a staggering 4.1 million people” are in need of humanitarian aid, Msuya said, not just food, but medicine, blankets, school supplies and shelter. He said nearly a million people in the territory, mainly women and children, live in tents, “half of whom are beyond their normal lives.”
Many fear the situation could only get worse in July, because Russia may force international aid to the northwest to be delivered through parts of Syria under the control of its ally, President Bashar Assad.
Currently, aid enters the enclave of Idlib directly from Turkey through a single border crossing, Bab al-Hawa. The UN mandate allowing renditions through the Bab al-Hawa ends on July 9, and Russia has hinted that it will veto a Security Council resolution renewing the mandate.
A Russian veto would effectively give Assad control over the flow of aid to the opposition enclave and the US and EU had previously warned they would stop funding in that case.
The result will be a serious humanitarian crisis, likely to trigger a new flood 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 put up with the deterioration of her living conditions.
“They keep reducing our food basket,” he said. “May God protect us if they cut it out completely.”
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