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UN humanitarian chief voices concern over Syrian economic crisis

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Damascus, Jan 21 (IANS) UN Undersecretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Mark Lowcock has voiced concern over the continuing economic crisis in Syria.

Syrians are starting 2021 with a currency whose value has drastically declined and food prices at historically high levels, partly because subsidies for key commodities like bread have been cut, Xinhua news agency quoted Lowcock as saying to the Security Council in a virtual briefing on Wednesday.

In December 2020, the World Food Programme revealed that food prices increasing again, by 13 per cent compared with November 2020, and by 236 per cent compared with December 2019, he said.

Nearly one in five households reported poor food consumption in December 2020. That was double the level recorded in December 2019.

Bread shortages continue in many areas. Domestic wheat production cannot meet demand, and most of what is produced is grown in areas outside government control.

In government areas, production fell significantly last year, said Lowcock.

As a result of decreased purchasing power, over 80 percent of households report relying on negative coping mechanisms to afford food. The most worrying is a growing reliance on child labour. One family in 10 say they have to rely on their children to contribute to the family income, he said.

Fuel shortages and power cuts in the middle of winter are another manifestation of the deep economic crisis. Black market prices for heating fuel are up to 10 times the subsidised rate.

There are shortages of fuel for transportation, and long queues at fuel stations, he said.

The UN’s concerns that many vulnerable families would not be sufficiently prepared for winter this year are proving justified, said Lowcock.

As a result of heavy rainfall affecting thousands of people in the northwest this week, people are spending whole nights standing upright in their tents because they are inundated with so much water.

There are similar problems in other parts of the country, he added.




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