Ahmad* lives in a displacement camp in North West Syria. His father Rami* says the growth of his son is stunted due to poor nutrition. Photo Credit: Save the Children/Hurras Network
Hundreds of Thousands More Children in Syria Face Hunger
FAIRFIELD, Conn. (September 28, 2020) – Seven hundred thousand more children face hunger in Syria due to the country’s badly-damaged economy and the impact of COVID-19 restrictions. This means in the last six months, the total number of food-insecure children across the country has risen to more than 4.6 million. After almost ten years of conflict and displacement, an unprecedented number of children in Syria are now battling soaring malnutrition rates, a new report by Save the Children reveals.
Across Syria, 5,480 cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed so far. These numbers are likely to be just the tip of the iceberg, as there are considerable gaps in testing and a shortage in personal protective equipment. Many people report being advised to take over-the-counter medicine without a test when showing symptoms. There have also been claims of an increase in the daily requests for gravediggers in some areas.
Coronavirus restrictions, nearly 10 years of violence, and mass job losses have devastated millions of people’s livelihoods. Currency depreciation and a reduction in the flow of goods have made the situation worse, pushing food prices ever higher. According to the World Food Programme, a food basket that can feed a family now costs more than 23 times the pre-crisis average – and more than double the previous peak in 2016.
Ten-year-old Faten* who lives in a displacement camp in North West Syria, said, “We don’t always eat in the evening because there is no bread. Sometimes I get hungry at noon or in the afternoon; I get hungry, but I can never find bread to eat. When we were home, we could eat whatever we wanted, but here, the food is different than it was at home, and we can’t afford to buy [food] anymore.”
Parents have little choice but to cut out fresh food such as meat, fruit, and vegetables instead, relying on rice or grains for weeks on end. A recent survey conducted by Save the Children found that 65 percent of children have not had an apple, an orange, or a banana for at least three months. In North East Syria, almost a quarter of children said they had not eaten these fruits in at least nine months.
Ten-year-old Noura* said, “The last time I had fruit was more than two months ago. When I ask my parents to buy us some, they say we can barely afford food.”
Many children told Save the Children that all they had eaten over the past weeks was rice and beans. One mother said she saved up for three weeks to buy a single apple, which she split five ways between her and her family. Another child who had not eaten any fresh fruit or vegetables for six months had one piece of prune, which he found on the ground.
Father-of-two Rami* said, “My [two] children are six years old… and two months old. Their growth has stopped so much. I took them to many doctors, they gave us medicine, but they didn’t get better not even one percent. Sometimes they say malnutrition, sometimes something else. I got all kinds of medicine. Every half a month, I buy medicine for around 7,000 Syrian pounds”.
A prolonged lack of nutritious food in daily meals can cause lifelong risks for children, including stunting or chronic malnutrition. In Syria, at least one in eight children, or 500,000, currently suffer from this condition.
Save the Children’s Syria Response Director, Sonia Khush said: “Malnutrition is a greatly overlooked problem facing Syria’s children. Malnourished children face myriad risks to their health and wellbeing, such as stunting, which limits children’s ability to fight off disease, increases the likelihood of anxiety and depression, and leads to poor performance in school.
“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. Unless we act now to alleviate this suffering, more children will have to watch as their portion of food becomes smaller by the day.”
Save the Children will be distributing food parcels with fresh fruits and vegetables in northern Syria, targeting pregnant women and new mothers, to combat hidden hunger in children and mothers. The international humanitarian organization also supports young children across Syria, providing dietary advice, and screening for malnutrition.
It is vital that the international community comes together to invest in efforts to improve the availability and affordability of safe and nutritious food. While the needs across Syria are deepening due to COVID-19 and the economic impacts of the conflict, nutrition requirements are only 11 percent funded.
To ease the suffering for families and children who continue to struggle in the middle of a prolonged economic crisis and the spread of a pandemic, Save the Children is also calling for unrestricted humanitarian access and the reauthorization of border crossings. This includes the crossing in Bab Al-Salam, north of Aleppo, which was closed in July.
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