Posted on 07/25/2012 at 04:10:14 PM by Student BloggerBy Samuel Scott
On July 15, after 16 months of fighting and an estimated 14,000 deaths, the International Committee of the Red Cross declared the conflict in Syria to be a full-blown civil war. If you go to your favorite online news source, there's a good chance that you'll learn how many people or which government officials were killed by the most recent bombing in Syria.
But what about the majority, the 20.8 million Syrians—farmers, bakers, blue-collar workers, parents, children in school? How are basic living standards and quality of daily life for the working class affected? Imagine a dinner table in the average family's home. The family just sat down at the table and they are about to eat a typical meal together. Now ask yourself:
What is on the table? What was on the table before the conflict?
I've never been to Syria. To be honest, I don't even know what kinds of foods they eat in Syria. But my guess is that they aren't eating the same foods tonight that they were eating 16 months ago. Here's why. War causes food insecurity. The World Food Programme (WFP) published a document (large file) in 2011 that provides an overview of the link between food security and violent conflict. One of the key points made in the paper is that a rise in food prices can be a cause and “impact multiplier” of violent conflict. A logical question to ask, then, would be: how do food prices in Syria today compare to food prices in Syria 16 months ago? In order to answer this question, one must identify the determinants of food prices. To illustrate this concept, I will use tomatoes as they are one of the foods likely to be on the dinner table.
The price that the average family pays for a tomato in the marketplace is a reflection of the net costs of cultivating, processing, transporting-- all of the costs involved in getting the tomato from the field to the table. As it is difficult to think about all of the different cost scenarios, I would propose that a common currency, which may make the situation easier to comprehend, is energy.
It takes a certain amount of energy to get the tomato seed planted. Farmers use tractors to plant tomato seeds. Tractors require fuel (energy) to run. Machines in the factory that wash the tomato require fuel to run. The truck that drives the tomato into the city marketplace requires fuel to run. Tanks, the kind that are blowing up buildings in Damascus, also require fuel to run.
There is a serious fuel shortage in Syria due to the gluttony of military machines. Diesel is being sold on the black market for double the normal price. According to Newser, Mr. Chavez is shipping hundreds of millions of dollars worth of Venezuelan fuel to Mr. Assad to assist the government in overthrowing the rebels. A tomato processing plant owner was quoted recently in a Reuter's article, saying “With the drop in agricultural production in areas that are now battlegrounds, even these rises [in fuel and electricity prices], which are not that big, will push costs up and ultimately consumers will suffer.”
Consumers are suffering already. In the southern Syrian town of Deraa, a business owner said “Prices are already rising and they will rise much more. Last year a 10-kilogram box of tomatoes cost almost nothing in season, say about 50 SYP ($0.78), but this year we are going to be talking about 500 SYP ($7.80) for the same box."
Ordinary Syrians are not able to buy the foods they normally buy because food availability is low and prices are high. This has resulted in an increased consumption of cereals and a decrease in overall dietary quality and diversity. Even the price of cereals has increased; the price of wheat flour, used to make traditional flatbread, has jumped 200 percent in the past year. Agence France-Presse, a French news agency, published an article in March telling the story of a working class couple in Damascus who wake up at dawn and stand in long queues to buy bread for their 5 children. The 48-year-old father buys 4 kilograms (8.8 pounds) of bread every day instead of rice, fruit and vegetables.
The WFP is working hard to mitigate the food crisis in Syria. Together with the Syrian Arab Red Crescent, they are delivering food to all 14 provinces in Syria, hoping to reach 850,000 people in July. For more information and to stay updated on the progress, check out their website.