Livelihoods at risk as UN appeals for US$20 million

Though a third of Syria's total area is arable land, most of this lacks irrigation and is dependent on rainfall.
(Hugh Macleod/IRIN)

Some 150,000 farmers have lost their harvest this season, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) which has launched an appeal for US$20 million to tackle the worst drought in four decades.

[Read this report in Arabic]

“150,000 farmers, representing 750,000 people, have completely lost their harvest,” Elizabeth Byrs, a spokeswoman for OCHA in Geneva, told IRIN. “The impact is most serious for farmers unable to reclaim any seeds to plant in the upcoming season.”

OCHA launched an appeal on 1 October for $20,228,570 “to work with governmental partners and non-governmental organisations to help up to one million drought-affected people in Syria for a period of six months”.

Syria has about 8.8 million people (42 percent of its population) living in rural areas. One third of the country is arable land, but 79 percent of this arable land lacks irrigation and is dependent on rainfall.

It is these areas that have been the most affected by drought, a UN country team assessment found, leaving herders and subsistence farmers at risk of losing their livelihoods and of increased malnutrition.

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“Many people are eating less, selling assets, or migrating. Anaemia, malnutrition and diarrhoea are on the rise,” the UN report said.

The assessment was carried out 11-25 August by a joint team of UN and other agencies - United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the World Food Programme, the World Health Organization, UN Children’s Fund and the International Organization for Migration - to assess the impact of the lack of rain on crop production and vegetation, livestock, vulnerable groups, herders and household income.

Wheat, barley harvests down sharply

This year’s wheat harvest is estimated at about 2.5 million tonnes, down 1.5 million (nearly 40 percent) on last year. This forced the Syrian government this year to import wheat for the first time in 15 years. The most severely affected area is Badia, eastern Syria, where productivity was zero, or close to it.

Barley was even more severely affected, with some economists estimating a 90 percent crop failure. This has had huge repercussions for the livestock sector, which uses barley for 60 percent of its animal feed. Many small-scale livestock farmers have been forced out of production. Up to 59,000 herders have lost their herds and 47,000 herders have lost between half and 60 percent of their livestock, the UN report said.

The UN assessment also estimated this season’s lentil production fell by 65 percent compared to the previous season, and was 73 percent below the 10-year average.

Shortage of drinking water

“The drought is very bad this year, there is not even enough drinking water,” Samir Safadi of the Syrian Environment Association told IRIN.

The assessment found the availability of drinking water has decreased in the rural areas of northeastern Syria, particularly those villages depending on protected wells as their sole water source.

But other areas have been affected too. “Even in the Golan Heights [a southerly plateau], which is rich in water, the Syrian government has begun trucking in water to people living there. This is the first time in history and if it happens again people are going to have to start moving out of the Golan,” said Safadi.

The government has provided farmers with feed on loan to be paid next season, and free veterinary medicines and vaccines. It has also distributed emergency assistance to 29,000 families.

“However, the needed assistance is beyond the government's capacity and resources,” the UN said. 


Photo: Hugh Macleod/IRIN
The worst drought in 40 years has decimated harvests of key crops such as wheat and barley and environmentalists are warning of a lack of drinking water in some area of the country

Appeal aims

As part of the appeal-funded response, FAO will assist up to 10,000 herders in Badia, through the provision of animal feed for two months.

The UN Development Programme (UNDP) will distribute 9,000 tonnes of high-quality wheat and barley seeds to 30,000 vulnerable farming households in time for the planting season, which begins in mid-October and continues until spring.

The UNDP will also support the creation of new income sources for the most vulnerable farmers and herders.

Livelihood diversification measures include the provision of micro-grants of around $800 distributed to 5,000 most severely affected small-scale farmers and herders. But the UN report warned the situation is not expected to improve until the spring of 2009, and then only if the rains do not fail for a second year in a row.

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This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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