People queue for hours to get a piece of bread at a low price. Children skip school and wander the streets in search of money. For WFP, 12.4 million people face “food insecurity”. The COVID-19 pandemic is being “ignored, because people cannot afford the luxury of not working”.
Damascus (AsiaNews) – The situation in Syria is getting increasingly tragic with more and more people at risk of starvation. “Hunger can be seen on the streets, among desperate people who wakeup at three in the morning and spend hours in long queues (pictured) trying to buy bread, then at 8 am they go to work. When they come home in the afternoon, they just have the strength to drag themselves to bed,” said Fr Amer Kassar, priest at Our Lady of Fatima Church in Damascus, speaking to AsiaNews.
“Bread costs 250 (Syrian) pounds, but it takes hours to buy. The alternative is private ovens, where there is no queue, but it can cost thousand pounds and few can afford it. Then we have the children who do not go to school but wander the streets, looking for a job to support the family.”
The situation is difficult in many areas and urban centres, not only in Damascus, as evinced by data on micro-crime and associated violence.
“Another very serious issue, which has been happening for some time also in the capital, is breaking and entering in homes and shops, stealing cars to resell them,” Fr Kasser explained.
“In our (Christian) neighbourhood, a man was attacked after he took money out of the bank. During the robbery, the criminals also tried to kill him and the incident happened in the morning, in broad daylight. The 'courage' of despair.”
According to the World Food Programme (WFP), about 12.4 million people are in conditions of “food insecurity” in Syria, a nation devastated by a decade-long conflict that has caused almost 400,000 deaths and displaced millions persons.
The level of hardships, experts warn, is now “alarming”. The UN agency notes that a recent study shows that “about 60 per cent of the population” is “in a situation of food insecurity”, by far “the worst figure on record” since the beginning of the conflict.
In a nation of about 20 million, more and more people are unable to put together enough food for lunch or dinner. The trend is sharply up from the 9.3 million reported last May.
About 83 per cent of the population, according to UN estimates, lives below the poverty level. Ten years of civil war, jihadist violence, refugee emergency, international sanctions and the crisis of Lebanese banks have brought the country to its knees.
The most affected are the most vulnerable, the sick, children and seniors amid an unprecedented crisis, as the Maronite Archbishop of Damascus pointed out.
“The past few months have been very hard for Syrians because the national currency has dropped sharply. Before the novel coronavirus, a dollar was worth 1,500 pounds, now we are at 3,600 pounds,” said the priest.
“An average salary is US/30, while prices have risen sharply due to inflation. The government gives bonuses a couple of times a year, but they are of little use. A family, in many cases, is forced to survive on a dollar a day, or even less.”
Because of such huge needs, the COVID-19 pandemic “is now ignored, since people cannot afford the luxury of not working, of buying masks or sanitisers.” The Church “is present, but the needs are far greater.”
“Open Hospitals” is one of the most successful projects, involving two facilities in Damascus and one in Aleppo, “but we cannot take the place of the government or international organisations” Fr Kassar admits.
“The Syrian people are in terrible conditions, without hope for the future, without a light at the end of the tunnel. We need cooperation at all levels, we need to relax sanctions and guarantee the possibility of travel, of bringing back to Syria money that is currently blocked by the various crises in Europe and neighbouring Lebanon.”