BEIRUT (AP) — An additional 700,000 children in Syria face hunger because of the country’s badly damaged economy and the impact of coronavirus restrictions, an international aid group warned Tuesday.
Save the Children said the new figures mean that in the last six months, the total number of food-insecure children across the country has risen to more than 4.6 million.
After nearly a 10-year conflict that killed some 400,000 and displaced half the country’s population, Syria’s economy has been badly harmed by the war as well as by widespread corruption, Western sanctions and a severe economic and financial crisis in neighboring Lebanon.
The local currency crashed in recent months making it more difficult for many Syrians to buy food. The spread of coronavirus in the war-torn country has worsened the situation.
Save the Children said an unprecedented number of children in Syria are now battling soaring malnutrition rates.
A recent survey conducted by Save the Children found that 65% of children “have not had an apple, an orange, or a banana for at least three months.” In northeast Syria, an area controlled by the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces, almost a quarter of children said they had not eaten those fruit in at least nine months, according to Save the Children.
Save the Children said parents have little choice but to cut out fresh food such as meat, fruit, and vegetables, relying instead on rice or grains for weeks.
The aid group said one mother said she saved up for three weeks to buy a single apple, which she split five ways between her and her family. It said at least one in eight children in Syria currently suffer lifelong risks for children, including stunting or chronic malnutrition.
“A whole generation of children are facing the risk of malnutrition because their families simply can no longer afford to put a meal on the table,” said Save the Children’s Syria Response Director, Sonia Khush.
The Syrian government has registered more than 4,100 cases of coronavirus in areas under its control while there are scores of cases in the last rebel stronghold in the country’s northwest and eastern Syria that is controlled by U.S.-backed Kurdish-led fighters.
The numbers of cases are believed to be much higher as many Syrians in rural areas don’t know that they are carrying the virus.
Coronavirus tests at private clinics cost around $60, far too expensive for most Syrians, whose average salary is less than $100 a month. The government conducts about 300 free tests each day for people showing symptoms.
Save the Children will be distributing food parcels with fresh fruit and vegetables in northern Syria, targeting pregnant women and new mothers, to combat hidden hunger in children and mothers. The international humanitarian organization also supports young children across Syria, providing dietary advice, and screening for malnutrition.
In July, Russia forced the U.N. Security Council to limit humanitarian aid deliveries to the country’s mainly rebel-held northwest to just one crossing point from Turkey. Western nations at the time said the move will cut a lifeline for 1.3 million people.
Save the Children also called for unrestricted humanitarian access and the reauthorization of border crossings.