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War and COVID-19 a double crisis for Syrians struggling against hunger

By Dania Kareh
Dania Kareh / Oxfam

Oxfam is providing seeds and other help for farmers to grow food.

Louay, a 45-year-old father of four, says he often wonders what memories his children in Syria will take with them to adulthood.

“Will it be of the piles of rubble they stumbled over so many times on their way to school? The nights they had to go to bed with empty stomachs? Or memories of our destroyed neighborhood,” he asks.

“All of it will be a reminder of a happy childhood they should have had, but didn’t,” says Louay.

Louay (not his real name) and his family live in Hamouriyeh, an agricultural town in Rural Damascus, once home to nearly 14,000 people who are suffering through several years of brutal war and displacement.

“We haven’t been able to have a normal life during nine years of violence and now the coronavirus crisis is exacerbating all of the other issues we had before it came,” he says, describing the situation as “too much to bear.”

Living with war and hunger

Even before COVID-19 hit, four out of five Syrians lived below the poverty line. For millions, the almost decade-long war has been a time of fear, confusion, and loss; of livelihoods and belongings, homes and family members; and, for too many, the loss of dreams.

Now, the coronavirus has brought a double humanitarian crisis to Syria, bringing even greater challenges to people’s lives and pushing them into extreme survival measures.

Louay says that he struggles earn an income, and his family has had to cut back on the number of meals they eat each day.

“I’ve worked as a carpenter ever since I was a boy. It was once a thriving business, but not anymore. Since the war began, and now with coronavirus, things went from bad to worse. Who would think about buying furniture now with the increased prices, when most households can't even afford their basic living expenses? People cannot afford to buy items unless they’re daily essentials. We need to forget things like meat and fruit now.”

Louay, 45, feeding chickens he just received from Oxfam. Oxfam distributed chickens to 434 other families in Rural Damascus. Dania Kareh / Oxfam

Louay turned to farming to help make ends meet. He owns a small plot of land and is planting a part of it, hoping that he will give his family of six some returns by the end of the season. Oxfam gave him 21 chickens to raise. He and 433 other families in this area (about 2,200 people) received chickens from Oxfam.

Syrians’ livelihood gripped by the pandemic

For Marwan, a farmer in eastern Ghouta, the situation is no different.

“Two months ago, we started to feel the impact of the coronavirus crisis. Our income was dwindling, and food prices continued to skyrocket. What we earned from last seasons’ harvest couldn’t cover my family’s basic expenses, even rent, and setting some money aside was something we could no longer do. Purchasing new seeds, after prices have increased dramatically, was out of the question, and so, for us, preparing for next season’s harvest was out of reach,” he tells Oxfam.

Marwan (not his real name) lost his house during the violence and is now leasing an apartment with his family. Rent is expensive, and as prices continue to rise, his livelihood, like so many others, is at stake.

Support for farmers

All over the country, the situation for Syrians is sharply deteriorating. Millions of Syrians like Marwan and Louay require humanitarian assistance for clean water, food, shelter, healthcare, and more.

Oxfam has delivered chickens, tomato and eggplant seedlings, as well as cucumber and zucchini seeds, to around 2,200 people in Eastern Ghouta.

For Marwan, the seedlings and seeds have filled a crucial need. “Without them, our only option would have been to sell some of our land to survive,” he says.

Oxfam is working in eight of Syria’s 14 governorates to prevent the spread of diseases by promoting good hygiene practices in schools and by training local community volunteers. We are also providing clean water through the rehabilitation of water systems and by truck. Since the first cases of COVID-19 were reported, Oxfam has beefed up its response, distributing thousands of hygiene kits, cash, as well as providing seeds and seedlings to farmers in Aleppo, Deir ez-Zor and rural Damascus. We distribute food or cash where needed, and help farmers to grow food and make a living.

Without access to this crucial aid, thousands more will be forced to abandon their livelihoods, bringing them closer to financial ruin. We must do everything we can to ensure Syrians are protected and supported—otherwise dignified and safe lives will fall farther from their grasp.

Oxfam is assisting families affected by COVID-19 in more than 60 countries. You can help us provide seeds, tools, training, and other programming to farmers struggling to grow food during the pandemic, and assist in Oxfam's broader global work against poverty and injustice.

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