Since the start of the war between Russia and Ukraine in February, the headlines have been dominated by images of war-torn Ukrainian cities, burnt out tanks, and cruise missile strikes. A major European war for the first time since the Second World War has shocked the world.
However, the effects of the war are not limited to Europe, and highlight an issue that has long plagued many regions of the world, not least the Middle East; the issue of food security.
Combined, Russia and Ukraine supply the world with over a quarter of its wheat, with much of this going to countries such as Egypt, Turkey, Nigeria, and others. Global food prices have already seen an increase, and this will only continue as the conflict continues and the major importers of Russian and Ukrainian wheat dip into their reserves, creating a global food crisis.
This is an issue that Syrians have been all too familiar with for years. The Syrian lira has seen its value against the dollar plummet since 2019, and simultaneously, Syria has suffered from record-breaking droughts that have led to failed wheat harvests in the country for several years in a row.
Our region of North and East Syria had traditionally been the “bread basket” of the country. The vast majority of the country’s wheat was grown in our region and it provided more than what was needed, leaving the Autonomous Administration with a surplus in several years.
This has changed dramatically in recent years as Syria has faced immense environmental challenges, especially drought and severely low water-levels in the Euphrates River. This has been caused partially by the environmental issues brought about by climate change, and to a large extent by intentional weaponization of water by Turkey and the so-called “Syrian National Army” forces it supports. The estimated wheat production in Syria fell from 2.8 million tons in 2020 to 1.04 million in 2021 alone.
Now, Syria finds itself in the midst of a food crisis, even without taking the effects of the Russia-Ukraine War into account. About 60% of Syria’s population, or over 12 million people, suffer from food insecurity, which is a 57% increase since 2019, and the highest rate of food insecurity ever recorded in the country, according to the World Food Program.
The Biden Administration’s appointment of Cary Fowler as Special Envoy for Global Food Security is a clear sign that the United States recognizes this issue and its growing significance.
Food insecurity has taken place and been exacerbated by the continuation of the Syrian Crisis for 11 years. It is one of the primary drivers of the instability that has allowed terrorist organizations such as ISIS to survive and reconstitute themselves, despite the immense levels of military pressure that the SDF and its Coalition allies have imposed on them.
According to the Department of State’s press statement regarding his appointment, the Special Envoy’s mission is “to advance U.S. food security, global hunger, and nutrition objectives, through diplomatic engagement with allies and partners in bilateral, regional and multilateral fora.” The Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria looks forward to this diplomatic engagement with the United States on this issue so that it may be dealt with accordingly.