The eight-year conflict in Syria has put the issue of food security front and center. Food was systematically used as a tool of war by warring parties to achieve political gains even after the decline of armed operations. In this context, and with the aim of highlighting this issue, the Department of Environmental Health at the Faculty of Health Sciences (FHS) in partnership with the Syrian Center for Policy Research (SCPR) and the Agricultural, Environment, and Health Network launched on Tuesday, May 14, 2019 a report entitled “Food Security and Conflict in Syria."
The event, attended by around 50 researchers, professionals and public health experts, was opened by Dr. Rima Habib, Chair of the Environmental Health Department at FHS of the American University of Beirut (AUB). Following that, Mr. Rabie Nasser and Ms. Ramia Ismail from SCPR presented the findings and the messages of the report.
The results of the research showed a significant deterioration in the quality of available food, and a clear imbalance in food composition during the conflict, this is evidenced by the decline in nutrition indicators for children during conflict, notably in areas that have suffered heavy clashes or sieges. The results indicate a deterioration of the stability component due to increased dependence on imports and food assistance, deterioration of living conditions and sources of income for individuals, as well as environmental degradation
Despite the recent decline in armed conflict violence and its triggers persist leading to an accumulation of human, material and institutional losses. These triggers accentuate the exacerbation of injustice and humanitarian needs. The conflict has turned Syria into a country whose population suffers from a severe food crisis in terms of availability, access, use, sustainability, and equitable distribution.
According to the report, the conflict resulted in significant and unprecedented destruction of human, institutional, physical and environmental factors. “As we studied determinants affecting food security, we found that failed institutions, wide spread violence, and the destruction of infrastructure and the human capital had a crucial impact," said Nasser.
In terms of manpower, hundreds of thousands of people have been killed, millions injured, about half of the population has been forcibly displaced, and the number of agricultural workers has fallen to half between 2010 and 2018. Despite the sharp decline in agricultural production, and as the GDP of Agriculture dropped by half in 2018 in comparison with 2010 especially for rainfed irrigated crops due to various climatic conditions, agriculture played the role of an economic protection network during the conflict, providing job opportunities and food sources in the midst of tragic conflict conditions.
The report stated the chief priority is to stop violence and to dismantle authoritarian institutions through a fundamental transformation process that ensures broad and active community role to achieve participatory, efficient and accountable institutions that address the grievances resulting from the conflict. The second key priority is the respect for rights and ensure human security. Developing a productive economy to substitute the war economy by providing incentives to productive work and focusing on increased rural and agricultural production is a third key priority. Working on reconciliation and investment in building trust and solidarity among individuals is an essential component in addressing the causes of food deprivation.
The presentation of the report findings was followed by a panel discussion led by Dr. Roland Riachi, Visiting Assistant Professor at the Department of Political Studies and Public at AUB, and Prof. Martha Mundy of the London School of Economics and Political Science. The panelists discussed the findings and the messages of the report and shared their comments from their field of expertise. The attendees in their turn had the chance to raise their concerns and share interesting inputs regarding different issues as post-conflict reconstruction in Syria and the fear it would neglect rural areas and agriculture, as well as the role of women in this phase.