Syria Drought Appeal 2008

29 September 2008

Syria is currently experiencing a drought that is by far the worst over the past four decades.  The Syrian Government estimates that 200,000 families (up to one million people) have suffered direct severe impact of the drought.  These people are predominantly herders and subsistence farmers, put at risk of rapid loss of livelihood and increased malnutrition.  The impact has been felt so dramatically throughout the country that the Syrian Government approached the UN Resident Coordinator requesting mobilisation of emergency funds from UN agencies and the donor community. 

The UN Country Team in Syria responded by conducting a UN joint rapid drought impact assessment (FAO, WFP, WHO, UNICEF, IOM), 11 to 25 August 2008, to verify the impact of rain shortfall on crop production and range vegetation, livestock, vulnerable groups, herders, and household income.  The results confirmed that the situation is considerably worse than initially estimated.  The lack of water and irregular rains over the past months has severely threatened the food security of farmers and herders in the affected zones and seriously endangered their livelihoods and nutritional status. 

As a result of poor and erratic rains in the 2007/2008 cropping season, the average yield of basic crops (wheat, barley, lentil and chickpeas) dropped in irrigated areas by 31.6% and in rain-fed areas by as much as 78.9%.  The total national wheat production was at 47.1% of the previous season and 48.5% of the past 10 year average, while barley production was at 66.7% and 66.8% respectively.  Similarly, the drought has resulted in decreased vegetation in the natural ranges, where contribution to feed resources dropped to zero.  As a result herders sold their animals for 60-70% below the average of the original prices and in many cases they even exhausted their herds.  59,000 small herders (owning less than 100) lost almost all their herds and 47,000 herders (owning 100-300 heads) lost 50-60% of their livestock.  The Government has responded by distributing amounts of feed on loan to be repaid next season, as well as providing veterinary medicines and vaccines for free.  Most recently, the Government distributed emergency aid to 29,000 families.  However, the needed assistance is far beyond the Government capacity and resources, as the strategic wheat stocks have been depleted and many herders have incurred huge losses that they might not recover from for several seasons to come.

Reduced availability of wheat and barley has contributed to further increases in price of food items in the Syrian market (the Syrian bread and cereals price index marked a 27% increase compared to January 2008 prices – double the price inflation observed globally during the same period).  This has outstripped household incomes and the purchasing power of the general population, especially in the drought-affected areas.  The UN Inter-Agency mission estimates that some 204,000 families (around one million people) in north-eastern Syria are food insecure; their income from crops and livestock sales has been depleted, and currently many resort to damaging coping mechanisms, such as decreased food intake, sale of agriculture and household assets, or migration.  Health data indicate a marked increase in the prevalence of anaemia, malnutrition and diarrhoea especially among children less than five years of age, as well as pregnant women by more than twofold compared to the same period in 2007.  Availability of drinking water has been considerably decreased in the rural areas of north-eastern Syria, particularly in those villages depending on protected wells as their only water source.  Migration of rural population towards less water-stressed urban areas was in 2007/2008 higher by 20-30% than in the previous years due to Impact of the drought, loss of livelihoods and water shortages.[1]

Around one million people in north-eastern Syria have seen their livelihoods and assets shrink dramatically as a result of the current drought, commencing in October 2007.  The situation is not expected to improve until the spring 2009, when the crops sown in October 2008 will mature, if the rains do not fail for a second year in a row.  The current situation could result in chronic vulnerabilities among the drought-affected communities if emergency assistance is not readily available before the next cropping season, so that the farmers could-restart their production.  The distribution of seeds in tandem and a targeted food distribution are the most urgent activities and should be commenced by mid-October 2008 and continue throughout spring 2009.  These measures will be supplemented by assisting small-scale farmers and herders to diversify their income through creation of alternative jobs in non-agricultural sectors of the local economy, thus increasing their resilience to climate-related disasters and preventing future out migration.  Moreover, early announcement of available assistance is very important to influence the decision of farmers and herders to continue their agricultural activities in the coming months and mitigate out-migration from the drought-affected areas.

Through this Appeal, five United Nations agencies seek US$[2] 20,228,570 to work with Governmental partners and Non-Governmental Organisations in addressing the emergency humanitarian needs and prevent further impacts on approximately one million drought-affected persons for a period of six months (October 2008 – March 2009).  The Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) has already allocated $1,97 million to three projects in this Appeal.


[1]Source: UN Inter-Agency Assessment Mission.

[2]All dollar signs in the document denote United States dollars.  Funding for this plan should be reported to the Financial Tracking Service (FTS, 





Document History

29 September 2008

Download the Document