Syrian Families Scramble for Food as Government Cuts Bread Subsidies
The Syrian government has introduced new limits on bread at state-funded bakeries that threaten to deepen the country’s already perilous hunger crisis, according to the Guardian.
Households in government-controlled areas, as opposed to those held by rebel factions, have been issued electronic cards to buy bread at the state-owned bakeries. These cards now limit households of two to one bread package per day; families of four can get two packages; families of six can get three packages; and all other families can receive no more than four packages.
A single bread package is not enough to feed a family of two per day, according to the Guardian. At most, it provides supplemental nutrition and staves off the possibility of starvation. Families who want to buy more bread have to turn to the black market, where inflation has caused prices to exorbitantly rise, the United Nations reports.
Households with more than seven people are now at risk of severe food insecurity, the Guardian notes.
Since the civil war broke out in 2011 and the government began bombing towns and cities across the country, domestic food production has plummeted, the economy has cratered, and poverty has skyrocketed.
An estimated 80% of the population now lives below the poverty line, earning less than $1 per day, according to the Borgen Institute. Roughly 9.3 million people are food insecure, the World Food Program reports.
The UN provides critical humanitarian assistance to people throughout Syria, but it’s far from reaching its fundraising goal for the country for 2020. As a result, critical programs remain unfunded.
The COVID-19 pandemic has deepened the humanitarian crisis and endangered the country’s fragile recovery.
The country’s COVID-19 transmission rate is unclear because of limited government tracking. Because of widespread food insecurity, people have weakened immune systems, making them especially susceptible to the virus. Syria’s health care system, meanwhile, has been devastated by the war and is unable to deal with a widespread COVID-19 outbreak.
More than 2.6 million children have been unable to go to school because of lockdown measures, while 50% of the country’s working age population is unemployed, the UN reports.
Because of the global economic impact of the pandemic, remittances (money sent by relatives living abroad) to Syria have also declined, further straining household income, the UN notes.
Because of these interlocking pressures, the government’s decision to cut bread subsidies comes at a particularly bad time. The government itself is in a tight position because of its ongoing lack of taxation revenue, rising inflation levels, and harsh economic sanctions by the United States government, according to the Guardian.
“I have to wake up every day at 3 a.m. and go to the bakery and wait three hours in line so I can buy bread, then go home and get dressed and go to work, but four pieces of bread is nowhere near enough to feed my children,” Abu Yasser, a Syrian civil servant, told the Guardian. “Our solution so far is to eat fewer meals and try to use rice or bulgar wheat if we can find it. I can only afford to buy black market bread once a week.”