Drought response faces funding shortfall

With a few weeks left before the end of this year’s planting season, UN officials have raised concerns over the lack of funds to help drought-hit farmers and herders in northeastern Syria.

“The situation is worrying. We have six weeks left before we miss this planting season,” said Abdulla Bin Yehia, UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) representative in Syria. “We need money to buy the seeds for the farmers and animal feed to prevent herders from selling off their remaining livestock.”

The northeast and the Badia region of Syria were hit by the worst drought in 40 years as rain failed for three consecutive years. The drought caused devastating losses for about 1.3 million people, of whom more than 800,000 were severely affected, according to the UN and the Syrian government.

The Syria Drought Response Plan 2009, which was launched by the UN in August, seeks about US$52.9 million, with food assistance and provision of agriculture inputs key.

“Although the drought response plan was launched in August, FAO has received $700,000 from the Spanish government besides the $1.4 million from the CERF [the Central Emergency Response Fund],” Bin Yehia told IRIN.

The World Food Programme (WFP) shares similar concerns. “WFP has received $2.2 million only out of $22 million needed. This amount is barely sufficient to start the first distribution in December which should cover at least two months of entitlements [December and January],” Silvana Giuffrida, WFP deputy country director, told IRIN.

The Financial Tracking Service (FTS) of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) shows that only 7.6 percent of the plan was funded.


“About 90 percent of agriculture in the affected areas depends on rainfall. Poor rains have caused all crops to fail and prevented any vegetative growth that can be used as animal feed. It also affected grazing pastures, which usually provide 60 percent of animal feed for the herders,” Bin Yehia said.

''We need money to buy the seeds for the farmers and animal feed to prevent herders from selling off their remaining livestock''

Some herders lost about 70 percent of their livestock. “They had to sell some of their animals to buy animal feed at very high prices. [Because supply is high] they are selling them at very low prices. Some herders were also forced to sell their animals to feed their children,” he said.

The drought also forced 250,000-300,000 families (at least 1.25-1.5 million people)  to leave their villages and they are now concentrated in the suburbs of Damascus and other cities like Aleppo and Daa’ra, according to Mohamad Alloush, director of the environment department at the State Planning Commission (SPC). “There was nothing left for these people in their villages and they are living now in very poor conditions,” he said.

Government efforts

The government is making “tremendous efforts” to help the people “but the disaster was too immense and like any emergency it requires international solidarity [and assistance]”, Bin Yehia said.

The authorities provided food baskets for the affected people, and exempted them from paying loan interests or rescheduled payment of loans, Bin Yehia said.

Alloush told IRIN the drought had affected the government’s five-year development plans in the area. “We had to revise these plans and shift our priorities from developing the northeastern parts to combating the drought there,” he said.

Last year Syria agreed with Turkey to draw 100 cubic meters per second of water from the trans-border Tigris River to irrigate 150,000ha of land in Hasakeh, the worst drought-hit governorate, Alloush said. “The project will help provide farmers with water to irrigate their lands in case rainfall continued to fail but such projects need lots of money. We hope to receive some funds as this project will play a major role in preventing the migration of the population from this area and encourage people who left to come back,” he added.