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Syria facing 'unprecedented' hunger crisis amid coronavirus outbreak, UN warns

There's a hunger crisis in Syria [Getty]

Date of publication: 27 June, 2020

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The United Nations has warned that Covid-19 and the deteriorating economic situation in Syria could prove to be a cocktail of disaster for the people.
Syria is set to experience an “unprecedented” hunger crisis amid a growing coronavirus pandemic, the United Nations said, warning humanitarian aid organisations that urgent action is needed to prevent a catastrophe.

The dire warning comes from a number of UN agencies ahead of a crucial conference next Tuesday that would bring together potential donors.

“We’ve only had 248 cases (of new coronavirus infection) in the country thus far, but we can take no comfort in that”, said Dr Richard Brennan, Regional Emergency Director for the World Health Organization (WHO)'s Eastern Mediterranean Regional Office.

“We have other countries in the region, the number of cases has got off to a slow start, and we’ve seen in more recent times a real acceleration, so we’ve seen this in Iraq, we’ve seen it in Turkey, we’ve seen it in Egypt and we can fully expect that we will have a similar development in Syria as well.”

To date, nine people have died from Covid-19 complications in Syria.

Most of the confirmed cases are concentrated in Damascus, under government control, however there are serious concerns that case numbers could rise in the climate of poverty most Syrians live in.

Hospitals suffering

After more than nine years of war, more than half of Syria’s public hospitals and health centres are out of service, according to the World Health Organization.

Heavy shelling of facilities in Damascus, Aleppo and Homs – to name a few places – means that many hospitals are in the rubble.

The UN is increasingly concerned that Covid-19 would be devastating for all those who live day-to-day, with no social welfare safety net and insufficient personal protective equipment (PPE).

“Even in healthcare settings, I have witnessed crowds of patients in facilities where there is no use of masks, even among some of the health medical personnel, because of a lack of PPE,” said Dr Akjemal Magtymova, WHO Representative in Syria.

Nine in 10 Syrians live on $2 or less a day, and the country has plunged into a dangerous hunger crisis.

“Syria today is facing an unprecedented hunger crisis as the prices of basic foods reach levels unseen even at the height of the nine-year conflict,” said spokesperson Elisabeth Byrs, noting a 200 percent food price hike in under a year.

“We’ll continue our work, we’re on the ground…we’re helping 4.8 million people who need food assistance from WFP in Syria’s 14 governorates. We’re going to carry on, but to do that we need $200 million urgently.”

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