Syrian Arab Republic
Current issues and what the World Food Programme is doing
The World Food Programme’s (WFP) Syria response helps people affected by the conflict, by delivering food, e-cards and organizing logistics. More information can be found on the Syria emergency page.
Now in its sixth year, the conflict in the Syrian Arab Republic is complex and multifaceted, having developed into several, simultaneous and interlinked wars involving a bewildering mosaic of national and international combatants.
The human cost is equally bewildering. In 2011 Syria’s population numbered just under 22 million people. Today, the exact figure is unknown. In August 2015 the UN estimated that 250,000 people had been killed in the war. By the beginning of 2016, 4.6 million citizens had fled the country, becoming refugees after long and perilous journeys to neighbouring or distant countries. Of those who remain in Syria, some 13.5 million people need humanitarian assistance - 6 million of them children; 1.5 million with disabilities; 4.5 million in hard-to-reach locations; close to half a million trapped in besieged areas - 6.5 million of them internally displaced.
‘“Displaced”. Such an innocuous word. But with its now-commonplace usage, accompanied by mind-numbing and ever-increasing numbers, have we become inured to the human drama behind the devastating facts of displacement in Syria today? Tucked away behind that rather bland term are, for millions, repeated stories of family separation; the loss of children, parents, friends, homes, entire neighbourhoods; and the terror of raining barrel bombs, of extremist depredations, of reprisals against family members imprisoned, tortured, raped, disappeared or killed. Displacement not once, twice or three times but multiple uprootings – to the homes of neighbours or into shells of buildings in their own neighbourhoods, displacement within their own districts and governorates or, ultimately, fleeing across borders to an unknown future.’ Nigel Fisher, former UN Regional Humanitarian Coordinator for the Syria Crisis, ‘Foreword: the inheritance of loss’ in Forced Migration, 47 (Sept), pp4-5.
The Syrian Arab Republic is a Middle Eastern country bordering Turkey in the north, Iraq in the east, Jordan and Israel in the south, Lebanon in the south west, and the Mediterranean Sea in the west.
In February 2011, emboldened by the Arab Spring, a group of schoolboys in Dar’a, southern Syria daubed the uprising’s slogan on a wall and were arrested and detained. Local protests demanding their release escalated into expressions of wider discontent - particularly against the country’s Emergency Law and its instruments.
In June 2011, the conflict militarized, and thus began the civil war in Syria that has since displaced half of the population. The breakdown of state mechanisms paved the way for parallel conflicts between different armed groups, each causing untold suffering. The conflict has now descended into stalemate: multiple, concurrent wars of attrition in which sieges, with hunger used as a weapon, have become the main feature.
Efforts to end all of these conflicts continue. But even when peace is eventually achieved, as it must be one day, reconstruction and rehabilitation will take years and will require long-term and sustained support by the international humanitarian agencies.
For now, our most pressing concern at WFP is gaining unrestricted access to those whose agony, distress and hunger increases daily: to those who live under siege, those who cling to their shelled homes and tattered possessions, and those who are displaced.
What are the current issues in the Syrian Arab Republic
The conflict in Syria continues to impact the humanitarian situation, resulting in complex needs both inside Syria and in countries hosting large refugee populations.
Refugees in neighbouring countries
Millions of families have fled the violence and have taken refuge in Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey. More than 2.5 million refugees are registered in Turkey alone. Humanitarian assessments in these countries showed that food is a top priority.
Food scarcity within Syria
Access to basic needs - including food, water, electricity and medical supplies - has been interrupted in areas witnessing armed combat. A growing number of household earners have become unemployed, a situation that has been exacerbated by soaring food and fuel prices across the country.
Disruption or loss of livelihoods
The disruption, destruction and displacement caused by the war has caused widespread poverty. In 2010, Syria ranked 119th of 187 countries in the UNDP Human Development Index, and GNI per capita was US$4,243. In 2015 it ranked 134th of 188, and GNI per capita was estimated to be US$2,728. The seizure by combatants of arterial highways has brought many commercial supply chains, as well as access to markets, to a halt.
Almost half Syria’s population lives in rural areas. The conflict has destroyed agricultural infrastructure and irrigation systems, reducing output and income, and increasing food scarcity. A joint Food Security Assessment in 2015 by WFP and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations found that wheat production was 40 percent lower than the pre-conflict level; the previous year had been even worse, having been affected both by low rainfall and by the conflict. The 2015 wheat yield represents an 800,000 metric ton shortfall in the country’s requirement for 2015-2016. Since lack of resilience to drought was among the grievances that led to the conflict, it is essential that reconstruction efforts address the issue.
What the World Food Programme is doing in the Syrian Arab Republic
WFP has been operating in Syria since 1964 and has since provided food assistance in the country through development and emergency operations. Since the beginning of the war, we have been contributing to the humanitarian response both inside Syria and in neighbouring countries.
Refugees in neighbouring countries
WFP is responding to refugees’ needs with food distributions and innovative food vouchers for 1.5 million people.
Food assistance within Syria
WFP uses over 3,000 trucks a month to dispatch food to hundreds of distribution points across the country, as well as delivering other goods for the humanitarian community.
Working with the Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC) and 23 other local organizations, WFP is distributing food, even in hard-to-reach areas subject to fighting. Together, we are providing monthly food assistance to more than four million Syrians inside Syria. Please see the General food distribution section below.
We have also initiated programmes specifically to target malnutrition in children and pregnant and nursing mothers. Please see the Nutrition section below.
General food distribution
Every month, WFP distributes family food rations to displaced and conflict-affected families across the country. These rations contain staple foods including rice, bulgur wheat, pasta, lentils, canned food, sugar, salt, cooking oil and wheat flour. More than four million people benefit from this assistance every month.
WFP aims to reach 240,000 vulnerable children under the age of five in eight Syrian governorates with ready-to-eat supplementary products to treat and prevent malnutrition. These are Specialized Nutritious Foods ( >> https://www.wfp.org/nutrition/special-nutritional-products ) that come in the form of nutrient spreads, such as Nutributter for children aged 6-23 months, and Plumpy’doz for children aged 6-59 months.
WFP’s nutrition programme for pregnant women and nursing mothers helps more than 7,000 mothers in Homs and Latakia to supplement their diets by buying fresh produce, dairy and meat products using WFP food vouchers. WFP plans to expand this programme to Tartous, Aleppo and Al Qamishli over the first quarter of 2016, reaching 15,000 mothers this year.
In 2014, WFP launched a school feeding programme in Syria in partnership with UNICEF and the Ministry of Education. In December 2015, WFP distributed healthy, fortified snacks to 375,000 children in primary schools in Aleppo, Damascus city and Rural Damascus, Al Hasakah, Homs, and Tartous.
Also in December, WFP started distributing the first batch of locally produced date bars. WFP purchased these from a local manufacturer. They source the raw materials from Syrian wholesalers and employ 15 people, including 5 women involved in all stages of production. This initiative is a milestone in WFP’s effort to strengthen and build resilience in Syria because it is the first step in building a supply chain within the country that benefits both recipients and the local economy.
Livelihoods and resilience
In 2016 WFP, in collaboration with its partners, is implementing two projects in Al-Hasakah governorate in the north-east, and Tartous governorate in the west, aimed at protecting and restoring livelihoods, and restoring agricultural infrastructure.
The first project is promoting livelihood and productive assets for 1,500 farmer and herder households, and will benefit some 7,500 people.
The second project will provide plastic sheets to rehabilitate greenhouses damaged in a snowstorm last winter. It also aims to address the immediate food needs of the affected households by providing monthly food rations during the lean season. This project will benefit approximately 15,000 people.
World Food Programme partners in Syrian Arab Republic
WFP cannot fight global hunger and poverty alone. These are our partners in Syrian Arab Republic:
- The Government of the Syrian Arab Republic Ministry of Education (in Arabic)
- The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations
- Syrian Arab Red Crescent
- United Nations Children’s Fund
Featured Syrian Arab Republic publications
A Country Brief provides the latest snapshot of the country strategy, operations, operational highlights (achievements and issues/challenges), partnerships and country background.
A Situation Report is a concise operational document with latest updates on the World Food Programme's (WFP) response to an emergency. It gives an overview of WFP’s activities and informs the wider humanitarian community and other interested stakeholders about WFP’s response.
Looking for more publications on the Syrian Arab Republic? Visit the Syrian Arab Republic publications archive.