DAMASCUS — Four consecutive droughts since 2006 have triggered "significant losses" of crops and livestock in Syria, mostly in the northeast of the country, a UN official said on Tuesday.
Olivier De Schutter, the UN special rapporteur on the right to food said who has been in Syria since August 29, said the droughts have left Syrians reeling and are having serious effects beyond purely economic ones.
"As a result of recent droughts ... between two and three million" Syrians are now "living in extreme poverty in the country," compared to 2.02 million in 2003-2004, Schutter told a news conference in Damascus.
He added, without elaborating, that this figure "remains tentative."
Schutter said that "since 2006, four consecutive droughts have affected Syria, with the drought in 2007-2008 being particularly devastating."
"The losses from these repeated droughts have been significant for the population in the northeastern part of the country, particularly in the provinces of Al-Hasakeh, Deir Ezzor and Al-Raqqa," he said.
"In total, 1.3 million people have been affected, 95 percent of which live in these provinces and 800,000 of which were severely devastated," he added.
In June, the World Food Programme started delivering food aid to nearly 200,000 people in those three provinces in the second such initiative since the United Nations launched a plan last year to combat the effects of the drought.
"The situation is really bad" in northeast Syria, WFP official Selly Muzammil said in June.
Schutter said those most affected are "small-scale farmers," and that the situation of many "further worsened in 2010 as a result of the yellow rust disease affecting the soft wheat production."
Meanwhile, small-scale herders have lost around 80-85 percent of their livestock since 2005, he said.
Schutter noted that the droughts force many families to migrate to urban areas, leaving behind unattended farm land while their children dropped out of school as families tried to ends meet.
The United Nations estimates more than a million people have left the northeast, with farmers simply not cultivating enough food or earning enough money to sustain them.
Fifty thousand families are expected to leave rural areas for urban ones this year, compared to 29,000-30,000 in 2009.
Schutter said the arrival of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi refugees in Syria after the March 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq was "another stress placed on Syria."
He also spoke of the "decrease of water table levels in Syria" and described that as "a serious source of concern."
Wheat production, a key strategic resource, is believed to have fallen this year to 2.4 million tonne from from 4.1 million in 2007, while consumption has risen to 4.0 million tonnes annually, the ruling party's newspaper Al-Baath reported in June.
"We are going to import wheat for the third consecutive year," the daily said.
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