Why are more than half of all Syrians going to sleep hungry?

With millions suffering from food insecurity, the rest of the world cannot look away

This picture taken on May 12, 2020 in the village of Kafr Nuran in the western countryside of Syria's northern Aleppo province shows men and children seated together in the midst of ruins before starting the "iftar" fast-breaking meal consumed by Muslims at sunset during the holy fasting month of Ramadan, as part of efforts by the humanitarian non-governmental organisation Caravanes Solidaires.  / AFP / Aaref WATAD

On Thursday, the World Food Programme said that a record 9.3 million people suffer from food insecurity in Syria, a figure that has leapt by more than two million in just six months. More than half of all its citizens risk going hungry, with little access to food supplies to sustain themselves and their families on a daily basis. This alarming development has come at a time of great economic distress and a huge health crisis for the world at large – and for war-torn Syria in particular.

Nine years of conflict have proven devastating for the Syrian people and wreaked havoc on the nation’s economy, pushing 80 per cent of the population below the poverty line, according to United Nations estimates.

In addition to long-standing hardships, a financial crisis that hit neighbouring Lebanon in November has taken a toll on its own economy, leading to the collapse of the Syrian pound and inflation. Many Syrians keep their savings in Lebanese banks, as their home country has little access to the global economy owing to international sanctions. However, Lebanon’s banking system is now reeling under an unprecedented crisis, which has been compounded by a shortage of US dollars to which the Lebanese pound is pegged.

And now, the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic are putting additional strain on Syrians. Measures to curb the spread of the virus have adversely affected government-held areas – as well as people’s pockets. In March, videos showing people chasing trucks that were distributing bread in Aleppo, where bakeries were closed during the lockdown, underlined the appalling living conditions of ordinary people.

This new reality is all the more shocking as Syria’s elite continues to amass riches from the country’s war economy. A few weeks ago, Rami Makhlouf, a cousin of President Bashar Al Assad and a business tycoon believed to have monopolised up to 60 per cent of the national economy, posted a plea on Facebook after the regime ordered measures against his companies. However, Mr Makhlouf was seen to be pleading for his enormous fortunes at a time when a majority of Syrians can barely afford to feed their loved ones.

This new reality is all the more shocking as Syria's elite continues to amass riches from the country's war economy

“More funds are urgently needed to save lives – we cannot let Syrian families down now,” the WFP recently tweeted. But as each country turns inward to respond to an unprecedented global health crisis and deal with its massive economic toll, there are concerns that the international community will have little time and few funds to spare for those in need in other parts of the globe.

There has been disappointingly little appetite among the world's powers to come together in the fight against coronavirus. And with international travel heavily restricted, ordinary Syrians find themselves in a precarious situation, with nowhere left to go and no one to turn to for support.

As Eid Al Fitr approaches, the people of Syria deserve to look forward to things other than more of the same hardships.