More Syrian children going hungry because of effects of war, pandemic

An additional 700,000 Syrian children are hungry and lack vital nutrition because of the country’s worsening economic and health climate, said Save the Children.
Wednesday 30/09/2020
Children stand in front of a tent classroom at a school in the town of Batenta camp in Idlib governorate, Syria, September 27. (DPA)
Children stand in front of a tent classroom at a school in the town of Batenta camp in Idlib governorate, Syria, September 27. (DPA)

DAMASCUS - More than 4.6 million Syrian children are now suffering from food insecurity due to years of war, poverty and now the coronavirus pandemic, according to recent figures from an international aid group.

Save the Children, a London-based humanitarian group that provides emergency relief in crisis areas around the world, said that an additional 700,000 Syrian children are hungry and lack vital nutrition because of the country’s worsening economic and health climate, including many in north-eastern areas controlled by US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).

A recent survey carried out by the NGO found that 65% of Syrian children “have not had an apple, an orange, or a banana for at least three months” and that a quarter of those in north-east Syria had not eaten those fruit in at least nine months. Save the Children added that parents are often forced to stop buying fresh food such as meat, fruit, and vegetables because of soaring prices and lack of availability, relying instead on rice or grains for weeks.

Save the Children’s Syria Response Director, Sonia Khush, said “a whole generation of children are facing the risk of malnutrition because their families simply can no longer afford to put a meal on the table.”

Children’s suffering has been amplified by recent COVID-19 outbreaks that have added to preexisting health concerns and disrupted economic activity. Experts fear the virus’s spread could be worse than documented due to low testing numbers and its impact more painful due to limited humanitarian support.

In July, Russia forced the UN Security Council to limit humanitarian aid deliveries to the country’s mainly rebel-held north-west to just one crossing point from Turkey. Western nations at the time said the move will cut a lifeline for 1.3 million people.

The US last week announced it will provide more than $720 million in additional aid to Syria to help those “in desperate need,” while US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo urged that “the international community must remain committed to meeting the increasing needs of the Syrian people.”

Syrian’s population has been wracked by nearly a decade of conflict between the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad and rebel groups seeking his ouster.

The US and its Western allies fiercely oppose Assad, whom they accuse of brutally crushing dissent to extend his autocratic rule and using internationally banned chemical weapons in the conflict. But the Syrian ruler has managed to cling onto power by relying on Russian and Iranian support and accessing entrenched financial networks controlled by the state.

In a bid to weaken Assad’s grip in power, the US has imposed crippling sanctions on the regime, most recently by blacklisting any third party that does business with it under the Ceasar Civilian Protection Act.

Assad has lashed out at the new US sanctions, which he said would compound Syria’s humanitarian woes at a desperate time. But the US says the measures do not affect humanitarian assistance and are aimed at cutting off funds to a corrupt and violent regime that is already hostile to its own population.

Assad must be held “accountable for its devastating military campaign and brutal disregard for human rights, including the arbitrary detention of over 100,000 Syrian civilians, the vast majority of whose whereabouts are currently unknown,” Pompeo said.

Amid the political turmoil, NGOs like Save the Children are doing what they can to provide relief to Syria’s most vulnerable, distributing food and aid parcels, providing dietary advice and screening for malnutrition.

Save the Children has also called for unrestricted humanitarian access and the reauthorisation of border crossings so that citizens’ needs can be met.