Starving in Syria: The biggest emergency in the UN’s history

Syrians 'forced to eat cats and dogs' to survive the war as three-quarters of population of 22 million will need aid to survive next year

As Syrian society teeters on the edge of final collapse after three years of ferocious warfare and economic devastation, the UN is making its biggest-ever appeal for £4bn in aid to help the country’s starving civilians.

Three-quarters of Syria’s 22.4 million people will need humanitarian aid to survive by 2014, according to a UN study. Bread in some areas costs five times what it was at the start of the conflict, and 80 per cent of Syrians say their greatest fear is shortage of food.

The former Foreign Secretary, David Miliband, who is now chief executive of the relief charity International Rescue, warned that the refugee crisis in Syria is “the biggest humanitarian test of the century” – a test that the international community is failing. The relief effort is being crippled by a lack of funds from donors and increasing danger for relief workers, he said.

Snow is worsening conditions for the 2.4 million Syrian refugees who have fled to Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Iraq and elsewhere, while another four million people have been displaced within Syria.

Doctors are trying to stop a polio epidemic with an emergency immunisation campaign. Whole districts have been rendered uninhabitable by the government bombardment that inevitably follows a rebel takeover in urban and rural districts. Many people inside and outside Syria are reaching the end of their savings after three years in which a lot have been without a job. The violence is still getting worse, sending more people fleeing for safety elsewhere. On Sunday, government air raids, using explosives packed into barrels, killed at least 76 people, including 28 children, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. Relief workers said that as many as 50 more people might be trapped under the rubble but they did not have heavy equipment to rescue them.

Meanwhile, the Observatory said that 28 people from the Syrian minorities – in this case believed to be Alawi and Druze – had been killed by rebels in the town of Adra north-west of Damascus.

As the Syrian conflict enters its third year, many parts of the country are besieged and cut off from supplies of food, electric power and water. The UN sent a plane on Sunday from Arbil in Iraqi Kurdistan with food and other supplies for the winter to the Kurds of Hassakeh in north-east Syria – where fighters from among the 2.5 million Syrian Kurd population have been battling against al-Qa’ida-linked affiliates seeking to get possession of the oil wells in the north-east of the country. The flights will bring in 400 tonnes of food and 196kg of medical equipment. There is great variation in the degree of impoverishment, with people in state-controlled areas much better off because they are able to get bread at very low prices from government bakeries – though they often have to queue for a long time.

In central Damascus, Tartous and some other government-held areas it is possible to have a near-normal life. But food bought in the market, such as lamb, cheese, eggs and margarine, have all soared in price because they are not being produced or the roads are too difficult for food supplies to be easily or cheaply transported. Even where people have jobs, salaries have often fallen below £100 a month.

In rebel-held areas the situation is much worse. Food is in short supply and government salaries and pensions, however inadequate, are not being paid. A recent graduate from the University of Damascus, writing for IRIN, the UN news agency, said that there are few doctors in the besieged town of al-Hajar al-Aswad in south Damascus – and those that remain say that mothers are too undernourished to produce breast milk for babies and there is no powdered milk available.

One doctor said adults “are getting by on small amounts of seasonal stocked traditional Syrian foods like olives, thyme and marmalade – and in some cases cats and dogs”. He expected adults to start dying of starvation in the near future.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
  • Get to the point
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Front-End UI Application Developer

£30000 - £40000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Front-End UI Application ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Service Engineers - Doncaster / Hull

£27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Domestic Service Only Engineers are requ...

Recruitment Genius: Employability / Recruitment Adviser

£23600 - £27500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Employability Service withi...

Day In a Page

Where the spooks get their coffee fix: The busiest Starbucks in the US is also the most secretive

The secret CIA Starbucks

The coffee shop is deep inside the agency's forested Virginia compound
Revealed: How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Loch Ness Monster 'sighting'

How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Nessie 'sighting'

The Natural History Museum's chief scientist was dismissed for declaring he had found the monster
One million Britons using food banks, according to Trussell Trust

One million Britons using food banks

Huge surge in number of families dependent on emergency food aid
Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths 2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths trove
The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey, 25 years on

The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey 25 years on

The space telescope was seen as a costly flop on its first release
Did Conservative peer Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

Did Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

A document seen by The Independent shows that a week after he resigned from the Lords he sold 350,000 shares in an American company - netting him $11.2m
Apple's ethnic emojis are being used to make racist comments on social media

Ethnic emojis used in racist comments

They were intended to promote harmony, but have achieved the opposite
Sir Kenneth Branagh interview: 'My bones are in the theatre'

Sir Kenneth Branagh: 'My bones are in the theatre'

The actor-turned-director’s new company will stage five plays from October – including works by Shakespeare and John Osborne
The sloth is now the face (and furry body) of three big advertising campaigns

The sloth is the face of three ad campaigns

Priya Elan discovers why slow and sleepy wins the race for brands in need of a new image
How to run a restaurant: As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food

How to run a restaurant

As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food
Record Store Day: Remembering an era when buying and selling discs were labours of love

Record Store Day: The vinyl countdown

For Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Usher, Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert as part of the Global Poverty Project

Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert

The concert in Washington is part of the Global Citizen project, which aims to encourage young people to donate to charity
10 best tote bags

Accessorise with a stylish shopper this spring: 10 best tote bags

We find carriers with room for all your essentials (and a bit more)
Paul Scholes column: I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England

Paul Scholes column

I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England
Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

The heptathlete has gone from the toast of the nation to being a sleep-deprived mum - but she’s ready to compete again. She just doesn't know how well she'll do...