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Press Release

Syria 11 years on: Hunger, drought and a collapsing economy threaten even more misery for millions, the IRC warns

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After eleven years of conflict, humanitarian needs of Syrians continue to reach record highs. Over a decade of conflict and displacement are being compounded by the impact of COVID-19, a devastating drought, and now a collapsing economy leaving millions of vulnerable Syrians struggling to survive. All while the recent invasion of Ukraine threatens to have devastating implications on the price of food for already cash-strapped families. 

Across the war-torn country, more than 60% of the population - 12 million people - are facing hunger and wondering how they will put food on the table for their families.

The average price of food is higher than at any time in the past nine years, with price rises of staple foods, water, and transportation, coupled with a significant deterioration in the value of the Syrian Pound and Turkish Lira (commonly used in northwest Syria) leaving families dangerously overstretched. According to OCHA, average household expenditure in Syria now exceeds available income by as much as 50%. 

Without adequate access to livelihoods or humanitarian assistance, many Syrians are now resorting to extreme ways of coping for survival.

Tanya Evans, the IRC’s Country Director in Syria, said:

“Our teams and partners inside Syria continue to witness the devastating impact on families who have now endured more than 11 years of conflict and crisis. Many tell us that they are now at breaking point. In a recent IRC survey, conducted in northwest Syria, 46% of respondents told us it is now common for children to drop out of school to work and provide for their families. The situation is particularly desperate for women and girls, with 1 in 4 respondents telling us that it is common for members of their community to resort to child marriage as a way of coping with rising poverty. The IRC and our partners are working tirelessly to support women and girls in need of protection in Syria, but with the needs outstripping the services available we are increasingly concerned about those who fall between the cracks.”

2021 saw the worst drought in Syria in more than 70 years, affecting access to drinking water, electricity generation and irrigation water for millions. The water crisis decimated the country’s wheat harvest, with production down from 2.8 million tonnes in 2020 to just 1.05 million tonnes in 2021. As a result, wheat prices have now soared to record highs placing even further strain on already stretched household budgets. Even before the drought, Syria was increasingly reliant on imports to ensure there was enough wheat in the country. With most wheat imports coming from Russia, the reverberating impact of the invasion of Ukraine is likely to have a far-reaching, and potentially devastating, impact on food insecurity in Syria throughout 2022 and beyond. 

David Miliband, President and CEO of the IRC said:

“Eleven years from the start of the Syria conflict and Syrians inside and outside the country find themselves at the center of a catastrophic mix of violence, hunger, poverty and isolation that only promises to get worse this year. Ukraine is rightly dominating global headlines, but we should also not forget the places where the laws of war and accountability have been flouted for years. Syria is a prime case where violations of international humanitarian law have become the norm. Now is not the time for us to turn our back on the people of Syria.”

“For those reliant on humanitarian assistance in the north of the country, the looming threat to cross-border operations risk being the latest in a long line of instances where the international community has failed to protect and deliver for ordinary civilians. We can, and must, do better to ensure that perpetrators are held to account and that those in need of humanitarian assistance are not left behind.”

As Syria marks yet another year of conflict and worsening crisis, the IRC is calling on the international community to:

  • Sufficiently fund the forthcoming two-year Humanitarian Response Plan, recognizing both the increasingly severe immediate needs that must be addressed, as well as the supporting sustainable medium-term interventions.
  • Ensure that the UN Security Council reauthorizes the provisions of the cross-border Resolution 2585 for another 12 months in July 2022 to avoid a major worsening of the humanitarian situation.
  • Prioritize the protection of civilians, humanitarian actors and civilian infrastructure by reaffirming the importance of adherence to international humanitarian law and strengthening efforts to hold perpetrators of IHL violations in Syria to account. 


Notes to Editors

  • Syria ranked nine in the IRC watchlist this year - a global annual list of humanitarian crises that are expected to significantly deteriorate in the coming year.
  • Results of IRC’s survey covering communities in northwest Syria on a household level between March 2021 and February 2022 revealed that:
    • 51% of the HH interviewed reported that women have no access to women’s centers / safe spaces.
    • 59% of the HH interviewed reported that children have no access to child or adolescent safe spaces.
    • 50% of the interviewed reported that they feel uncomfortable walking alone at night. The percentage is higher for female interviewees (74%).
    • Only one third of the HH interviewed feels that the situation will be more secure in the next three months. (29% feels it will be less secure and 38% feels it will stay the same)
  • Results of IRC’s survey covering communities in northwest Syria on a community level between March 2021 and February 2022 showed that:
    • 25% reported that it is common for the community members to rely on Early Marriage as a coping mechanism.
    • 46% reported that it is common for the community members to drop out children from school to work as a coping mechanism.
    • 45% reported that it is common for the community members to rely on begging as a coping mechanism.
  • Results of IRC’s survey covering communities in northeast Syria on a household level between January and December 2021 revealed that:
    • 62% (4,731) reported difficulties related to accessing food.
    • 43% (3,288) reported having children not attending school.
    • 66% (5,059) reported that women within their households are facing challenges accessing health services in their areas. The top reported challenges where:
      • “Cost of medicine” reported by 73%
      • “Medicine is not available” reported by 57%
      • “Cost of health service” reported by 52%
    • 61% (4,626) reported that men within their households are facing challenges accessing health services in their areas.
      • “Cost of medicine” reported by 76%
      • “Cost of health service” reported by 55%
      • “Medicine is not available” reported by 52%


The IRC in Syria:

The IRC has been working in Syria since 2012, responding to needs in the northwest and northeast. The IRC promotes economic recovery with job training, apprenticeships, and small business support. IRC teams support early childhood development and provide counseling and protection services for women and children, particularly for survivors of violence. We support health facilities and mobile health teams with lifesaving trauma services, and with primary, reproductive, and mental health services. Our COVID-19 response includes promoting awareness campaigns and training health workers in infection prevention and control. The IRC also supports Syrian refugees in Jordan, Iraq, and Lebanon.


In 2021, 6.8 million people in non-government-controlled parts of the northwest and 2.6 million in the northeast were in need of aid (OCHA). The final crossing for cross-border aid expires in July 2022, and there are currently no viable alternatives. Without UN cross-border operations, it will be nearly impossible for humanitarian actors to address increasing needs in 2022, much less meet existing needs. It is therefore crucial that the UN Security Council reauthorizes the cross-border mechanism for another twelve months when 2585 expires in July 2022.

About the IRC

The International Rescue Committee responds to the world’s worst humanitarian crises, helping to restore health, safety, education, economic wellbeing, and power to people devastated by conflict and disaster. Founded in 1933 at the call of Albert Einstein, the IRC is at work in over 40 countries and over 20 U.S. cities helping people to survive, reclaim control of their future, and strengthen their communities. Learn more at www.rescue.org and follow the IRC on Twitter & Facebook.