Middle East

WFP reduces monthly aid to NW Syria, amid worsening food crisis

The United Nations has decided to scale down the amount of items in its monthly emergency food baskets which it provides to poverty-stricken families and individuals in north-west Syria, due to constraints in funding, shortages of commodities and increasing food prices.

The UN’s World Food Programme (WFP) this week announced the decision that it was forced to take, with an anonymous spokesperson telling the media outlet Al Jazeera that “For north-west Syria this means, starting May 2022, the [food] basket will reduce from 1,300 to 1,170 [kilocalories] per person.”

The cutback in supplies would see recipients of the baskets receiving less monthly quantities of lentils, chickpeas, rice and bulgur wheat, but the same amount of vegetable oil, wheat flour, salt and sugar from the agency.

According to the outlet, a local aid and charity organisation in the north-western province of Idlib also confirmed that it is true and that it had received notifications of the decision by email from the WFP last week. The announcement comes only around six months after the agency previously cut back on supplies in the monthly food baskets in September last year.

The cutback is set to severely impact an already-struggling population and families in Idlib who benefit from the basket, most of whom are internally-displaced Syrians who live in camps throughout the province.

READ: Displaced Syrians in Idlib camps suffering from worsening conditions this Ramadan

A father of four and soon five, Wassel al-Ghajar, told the outlet that the reductions are already pushing his family to the brink of possible starvation. “If they eventually stop providing food baskets, we will die of starvation with our children,” said. “The food basket would help us get by for much of the month.”

The owner of a bakery in Idlib, Bilal Alwan, also said that the price of bread has doubled in recent months since the Russian invasion of Ukraine impacted exports of wheat and other basic commodities around the world. Now he relied on wheat imported from Turkey, with a tonne of flour increasing to around $500 from $380 since the conflict began in February.

“We don’t have alternatives [to Turkey], and we don’t produce enough wheat locally”, Alwan said, referring to the droughts and low yields that have hit Syria over the past few years and made many areas unable to sustain their own local wheat supplies. “May God help us,” the baker said.

With an estimated 97 percent of the four million people in northwest Syria living in poverty, around 1.35 million of them currently benefit from the WFP’s food basket programme. Even those supplies may soon not be enough, however.

Similar warnings of looming famine and starvation are being seen in Yemen, with the WFP also announcing this week that a lack of funding and dwindling supplies threatens to leave 19 million Yemenis without enough food to eat.

READ: The wheat crisis in the Arab world is exemplified by Egypt

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