UNITED NATIONS // With Syria's worst drought in 40 years leaving cattle dead, fields parched and around one million people edging towards hunger, the United Nations has launched an appeal to bail out the cash-strapped country. The world body has urged donors to provide more than US$20 million (Dh73.4m) to help the Middle East nation provide much-needed assistance to the herders and subsistence farmers who are bearing the brunt of the crisis.
"According to the Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs (Ocha), Syria's current drought is, by far, the worst it has experienced in four decades," said Michelle Montas, the spokeswoman for Ban Ki-moon, the UN chief. "The vast majority of funds requested in the appeal will go towards agriculture, livelihoods and food. Nearly $2 million from the UN's Central Emergency Response Fund has already been put towards the appeal."
Poor and erratic rains in the season beginning in Oct 2007 resulted in crop yields plummeting across north-east Syria, while the subsequent lack of fodder has seen 59,000 owners of small herds lose all of their livestock. Officials have assisted 29,000 drought-struck families and offered free cattle medicine and feed on loan, but the UN says in a report the affected population's need "is beyond the government's capacity and resources".
Syrians living in the drought-affected region are being doubly impacted by the global rise in food costs, which is seeing prices outstripping the average household income. UN officials say people are eating less, selling their assets or migrating, while conditions like anaemia, malnutrition and diarrhoea are on the rise - particularly among pregnant women and young children. Experts say - even if this season's rains fall at usual levels - the crisis will not abate until early next year when the crops currently being sown are ready for harvesting.