ANKARA, Turkey -- With bread scarce in major cities and towns, infant formula in extremely short supply and fuel costs skyrocketing, civilians in war-ravaged Syria face an acute food crisis that might end in starvation for many, according to activists from around the country of 22 million.
In the eastern city of Deir el Zour, eight infants have starved for want of powdered milk since a major military assault there began in July, Syrians from the city told McClatchy at a conference in Ankara, Turkey. Severe food shortages were reported in nearly every province.
The activists also renewed charges that the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad appears to have targeted the food chain by bombing bakeries throughout rebel-controlled areas. The activists, who represented municipal councils in most parts of Syria, had been summoned to Turkey as part of an attempt by the former Syrian ambassador to Sweden, Mohammad Bassam Imadi, to set up a new aid effort.
The attendees said pro-Assad forces had destroyed 38 bakeries since August, when Human Rights Watch first noted attacks on 10 bakeries in Aleppo, Syrias largest city. The latest bakery to be targeted was Thursday in al Hajr al Aswad, on the southern edge of Damascus, according to reports from the scene and a video posted Friday on YouTube. Reports said four people were killed and dozens wounded in the artillery assault.
When the regime first attacked Deir el Zour in July, they bombed all the bakeries maybe 10 of them. There is now not a single bakery working in the city, said Omar al Adday, a Syrian businessman now living in Saudi Arabia whod recently been in Deir el Zour. Others echoed his claim.
Adday and others said the regime also had targeted bakery delivery vans and farmers.
Even in Latakia province, the heartland of the Alawite religious sect to which Assad belongs, food is in very short supply.
Weve got to the point now where weve seen people who dont have any food, said Abu Hadi, an activist from the coastal town of Jablah who identified himself by a nickname out of concern for security. For around three months now, we have had hardly any grain. Our problem is delivery.
Bread is central to the Syrian diet, and most of those questioned cited it is as the most essential need in the country.
The statements by those at the conference, called to set up an organization to be known as the Civil Administration Councils, squared with the reporting of major U.N. agencies.
In Aleppo, bread is no longer available at any price, a spokeswoman for the World Food Program, a U.N. agency, said Wednesday. Elsewhere, the price of bread has jumped to 250 Syrian pounds $3.50 for a 2.2-pound loaf, 15 times its previous price, the spokeswoman, Abeer Etefa, told McClatchy in an email.
International aid agencies are reeling from the size of the problem. Earlier this month, the U.N. food program, which has been providing food aid to 1.5 million people, announced that it had been forced to reduce the amount of food it could give to individuals because it was running short of money. The international community is failing to reach least 1 million people in need of food, the head of the U.S. Agency for International Development said last month.
A dozen activists from 12 of Syrias 14 provinces spoke to McClatchy during the four-day conference, which ended Monday. Others filled out surveys that asked for details of the humanitarian crisis in their home areas. Some highlights of the survey: