The World Food Programme has warned that war-torn Syria is facing a drought that could threaten the lives of millions of Syrians as food rations have been cut by a fifth due to the failure of donors to honour pledges. Only $1.1 billion (€797 million) of $2.3 billion (€1.7 billion) promised for aid agencies has been received so far.
If the rains fail through harvest in mid-May, wheat production in Syria’s northwestern bread basket could fall to a record low of 1.7-2 million metric tonnes, further increasing import requirements to meet Syria’s wheat needs, the programme said. Prices of fruit and vegetables could soar, it warned.
Some 6.5 million Syrians could require emergency rations, surpassing the current figure of 4.1 million, said a spokeswoman for the programme, Elisabeth Byrs. The agency needs $1.6 billion to fund its operations for the year but has received only 22 per cent of the sum.
A prolonged drought between 2006-2010 parched crops and drove impoverished farmers into slum suburbs of Syrian cities, boosting unemployment and alienating undereducated youth, who took up arms in the 2011 revolt.
Already weighed down by three million refugees, there are fears Syria’s neighbours could break under the strain of a fresh influx driven into exile by a drought affecting the entire Levant region.
Syria’s main regional ally, Iran, has rushed more than 27,000 tonnes of foodstuffs to Syria. Tehran has also provided military advisers and a $3.6 billion (€2.6 billion) line of credit to buy petroleum products.
On the political front, Damascus has announced that the presidential election scheduled for July will not be postponed and candidates can submit applications during the last 10 days of April. Information minister Omran Zouabi stated, "We will not allow security, military or domestic or foreign political considerations to delay or cancel the presidential election..."
While the constitution adopted in 2012 provides for multicandidate elections, a law passed by parliament this year requires them to have lived in Syria for a decade, excluding exiles backed by the West and Gulf Arabs.
The opposition National Coalition has dismissed the prospect of an election and said Bashar al-Assad’s re-election would finish off peace talks launched at Geneva in January.
Although it is difficult to see how an election can be held when up to 40 per cent of Syrians are either internally displaced or refugees, observers predict Mr Assad could win because a majority of Syrians now consider the insurgents worse than the government and want to end the conflict.
Although he has not said whether he will run or not, Mr Assad, reportedly, told former Russian prime minister Sergei Stepashin, “This year the active phase of the military action in Syria will be ended. After that we will have to shift to ..fighting terrorism.”
Hizbullah chief Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, who has deployed seasoned fighters on the government side, has said Mr Assad is no longer at risk of being toppled by insurgents.
Since last June his forces have gained ground around Damascus, Homs, Hama and along the Lebanese and Jordanian borders, re-imposing control on the centre of the country.