Syrian farmers suffer from drought, worst in more than 70 years

WFP/Marwa Awad A family of farmers harvests maize in rural Aleppo in Syria. (file)

 When Syrians expect the end of years-long conflict one day could end their suffering, they never imagine that the weather could be as hard as the battles were, if not harder.

In Syria’s northeastern province of Hasakah, known as the food basket of the country, farmers have been reeling under a severe drought.

Abdullah Hussain, a farmer from Hasakah, told Xinhua that “we have been plagued by drought over the past two years, and before that, we had struggled with wildfires.”

For Karmo Ali, another farmer whose village used to enjoy wetter weather, the situation is also bad as poor rainfall wrecks hope of a harvest, forcing people to leave their farmland to find jobs in urban areas.

“This is our reality and most people have fled their homes due to the lack of work and harvest,” he told Xinhua.

The United Nations said in March that Syria saw 2021 the worst drought in more than 70 years, affecting access to drinking water, electricity generation, and irrigation water for millions of people.

The water crisis decimated the country’s wheat harvest, with production down from 2.8 million tons in 2020 to just 1.05 million tons in 2021, it added.

The Syrian Ministry of Local Administration and Environment said in January that the country was facing the worst drought in 70 years as a result of a lack of rains in most regions, which caused damage to crops and farmers, in addition to heat waves.

Rowaida Al-Nahar, director of environmental safety at the ministry, was quoted by the government-run Al-Baath newspaper as saying that the drought phenomenon is one of the main challenges that hinder development in Syria.

“The impact of drought can be seen in all activities, especially agricultural, economic and social,” she noted, saying “the droughts in Syria are unpredictable.”

The drought also affected livestock merchants.

Abu Bashar, a farmer and livestock merchant in the Hasakah province, told Xinhua that due to the lack of fodder and water, the expenses of raising livestock are so high that few people are buying livestock now.

The prices of sheep go down to as low as 100,000 Syrian pounds (about 39.8 U.S. dollars), compared with one million pounds in the past.

Raed Hamzeh, head of the agricultural policies at the Agricultural Ministry, told Xinhua on Thursday that the drought had caused a decline in agricultural production by at least 40 percent.

“Before the war in 2011, the germination ratio reached as high as 85 to 90 percent,” Hamzeh said, adding that low rainfall and higher-than-average temperatures, as well as the difficulty to secure fertilizers as a result of the U.S. sanctions, have decreased the germination ratio.

Syrian agriculture lost an estimated 16 billion dollars between 2011 and 2016 due to the droughts and the U.S. sanctions, he revealed. ■

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