ISTANBUL (AP) — Syria's Western-backed opposition on Thursday called on international donors to help stave off a food crisis in the country where drought and civil war have caused a dramatic drop in wheat production this year.
The United Nations predicted earlier this year that Syria's wheat harvest could hit a record low of between 1.7 million and 2 million tons, about 50 percent below averages recorded between 2001 and 2011.
"While the bombardments are going on ... there is a very, very severe problem right now upcoming, and no one talks about that," said Abrahim Miro, finance minister of the opposition's so-called interim government, which is based in Turkey. "That problem is that we have severe food crisis coming in the coming few months."
The Western-backed Syrian National Coalition set up the interim government with the goal of governing opposition-held areas in northern Syria. But the idea never gained traction, and the interim administration is largely irrelevant to rebels fighting the government and Islamic extremists inside Syria.
Miro said there were several reasons for the wheat shortage, but blamed it especially on very low production and the fact that much of the wheat is produced in areas held by the Islamic State extremist group and the Syrian government of President Bashar Assad. An estimated 200,000 people have been killed in Syria since protests against Assad spiraled into violence in 2011.
Miro said a grain agency set up by the interim government managed to procure 18,000 tons of wheat from local farmers, but that is not enough. He said it covers just 4 percent to 10 percent of the wheat required to provide bread to 2.5 million Syrians living in Aleppo, Idlib, Daraa and Quneitra provinces.
"We have a shortage of 323,000 tons," Miro said. "We ask our friends to give us wheat in-kind. The ball actually is in their field. We hope they can react as soon as possible."