Faced with war and coronavirus, Syrians are stuck between a rock and a hard place

Ruqaya, 83, lives in rural Aleppo with her family.

Ruqaya*, 83, lives in rural Aleppo with her family.  She and 800 other families benefit from Oxfam’s cash assistance program. Photo: Islam Mardini/Oxfam

In a war-torn Syria, the coronavirus crisis is no more dangerous than any other challenge the people here have had to endure, but its economic repercussions could prove disastrous.

“I remember the long days we spent in our home; afraid the bombs would get us next. There was no way for us to go outside, to make a living or buy the food we needed. At the time, I felt as though my life were hanging by a thread; a feeling that remains with me to this day. Only now it’s not the bombs I fear, but a faceless virus that threatens to harm as well as starve my family of five and me.” Munzer*, 71, a farmer in Abou-Getheh village, in the southern countryside of Aleppo.  

Munzer*, 71, is a farmer. He and 800 other families benefit from Oxfam’s cash assistance program in rural Aleppo, Syria.

Munzer*, 71, is a farmer. He and 800 other families benefit from Oxfam’s cash assistance program in rural Aleppo, Syria. Photo: Islam Mardini/Oxfam

According to the latest statistics by the World Food Programme, an estimated 9.3 million people in Syria are now food insecure, up from an estimated 7.9 million people six months ago. This is almost half of the population in the country whose lives and livelihoods have been affected by the economic impact of the virus, with the most vulnerable hit the hardest. 

“Prices of essential goods are at their highest since the Syria crisis began. Who would have thought that we would see the day when one kilogram of oranges would set us back 1200SYP (about 0.5USD)? This is more than what I can earn in a day”, Munzer says.

“Just when we thought things couldn’t get any worse, we are forced once again to scale down, skip meals and accumulate more debt or otherwise not survive.”

Farmer in the southern countryside of Aleppo

Ruqaya* (top picture), 83, also lives in rural Aleppo’s Abou-Getheh village. Her suffering is no different than that of others in her community. As prices continue to soar, she can no longer save money from selling the crops she and her family produce in order to buy seeds for the next season. “If prices continue to rise, we will have no choice but to sell a part of our land. I hope it won’t come to that, but if it does, it’s the only thing we can do,” Ruqaya tells Oxfam.     

Oxfam in Syria has delivered cash assistance to nearly 800 families in rural Aleppo - each receiving 100,000SYP (approximately $50). This helps cover some of their needs and ensures they don’t have to reach out to others who may also be struggling.

Helping farmers retain their lands and livelihoods

 “It was two months ago that we started to feel the impact of the coronavirus outbreak. Our income was dwindling as food prices continued to skyrocket. Everything we earned from last season’s harvest couldn’t cover my family’s basic expenses, including rent – and setting some money aside was something we could no longer do. Purchasing new seeds, the prices of which have increased dramatically, was out of the question, and so, for us, preparing for next season’s harvest was out of reach,” Marwan*, a farmer from Sakba, in Syria’s eastern Ghouta, tells Oxfam.

Marwan, 52, lives in eastern Ghouta with his family.

Marwan*, 52, lives in eastern Ghouta with his family.  He and 400 other farmers have benefited from Oxfam’s seed distribution response to help them. Photo: Dania Kareh/Oxfam

Marwan, like many other hardworking Syrians, lost his house during the violence and is now staying in a rented apartment with his family. Rent is expensive, and as prices continue to rise, his livelihood and that of many others, is at stake.

To help farmers maintain their livelihoods and remain self-sufficient, Oxfam has delivered 1,000 tomato and eggplant seedlings as well as thousands of cucumber and zucchini seeds to over 400 families in Sakba.

“These seedlings and seeds saved us. Had we not received them, our only option would have been to sell a part of our land to survive,” Marwan says.

* All names have been changes to protect identity.

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