Bread Crisis Starves Millions of Syrians

Syria's decade-long conflict has caused agricultural land to shrink and affect the scarcity of wheat. In addition, many bakeries were also destroyed and inoperable during the conflict. Not to mention, local authorities have imposed the amount of bread that can be obtained by the residents. "We split the bread into small bites and dipped it in the tea to make it look bigger," said one Syrian IDP.

The children of Syrian IDPs in their shelters.
Illustration. The children of Syrian IDPs in their shelters. (ACTNews)

ACTNews, SYRIA – Bread has long been a staple food in Syria. Before 2011, the country produced enough wheat to satisfy domestic consumption needs. However, since the war broke in Syria, bread production and supplies began to run low.

According to a Human Rights Watch report, a decade of armed conflict has resulted in a severe shortage of wheat in Syria due to destroyed farmland. In addition, many bakeries were destroyed and were inoperable during the conflict. This condition is worsened by the bread-related discriminatory distribution policy, alongside corruption and restrictions on how much subsidized bread people can buy that leads to people going hungry.

Bread has become one of the most needed items in Syria. People have to travel through checkpoints to afford bread or wait at overcrowded bakeries where there is often not enough bread for everyone in line.

“Syrian officials say that ensuring everyone has enough bread is a priority, but its actions show otherwise. Millions are going hungry in Syria, in large part because of the government’s failure to address a bread crisis it helped to create,” said Sara Kayyali, Syrian researcher at Human Rights Watch.

According to a study published by Humboldt University in 2020, Syria lost 943,000 hectares of cultivated land between 2010 and 2018. The severe depreciation of the Syrian currency affects the purchasing power across the country and makes the Syrians even more reliant on bread in their diet.

One man from Zabadani said that in early 2020 his family of four had stopped eating cheese and meat and relied on bread for most of their diet. But with the price increase and government limits, he and his wife have made do with one small meal a day to have enough bread for their children. “We break the bread into little bites and dip it into tea to make it seem bigger, and because the quality is so bad,” he said.

As of February 2021, at least 12.4 million Syrians, out of an estimated population of around 16 million, were food insecure, according to the World Food Programme (WFP), an alarming increase of 3.1 million in one year. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and WFP estimate that 46 percent of Syrian households have cut down on their daily food rations, and 38 percent of adults have reduced their consumption to ensure that children have enough to eat.[]