Syria is suffering a devastating wheat shortage the media claim is due to drought – but the truth is a lot more complicated

Syria is suffering a devastating wheat shortage the media claim is due to drought – but the truth is a lot more complicated
Eva Bartlett

-by Eva K Bartlett

Eva Bartlett is a Canadian independent journalist and activist. She has spent years on the ground covering conflict zones in the Middle East, especially in Syria and Palestine (where she lived for nearly four years). Follow her on Twitter @EvaKBartlett23 Jun, 2021 18:01

June 23, 2021, RT.com

Syria is back in the news again. This time, it’s not about hospitals allegedly being bombed, but a drought devastating Syria’s wheat harvest. But there’s a lot more to the story than a simple ‘Act of God’.

A recent article on Reuters would have readers believe the current Syrian wheat shortage mainly due to drought. The article makes a passing reference to the crippling Western sanctions choking Syrians, but doesn’t emphasize how those sanctions contribute to the wheat shortage, as well as the fuel shortage, massive hyperinflation, and an all-round worsening of Syrian lives. 

On June 16, Prensa Latina reported on wheat theft by US occupation forces noting, “a convoy of 32 trucks and containers loaded with looted wheat left for Iraq… The column was guarded by vehicles of the so-called Syrian Democratic Forces (FDS).” 

Corporate media en masse is a criminal entity with zero integrity. It operates to protect power & to start & maintain wars, it is more than “state media” it is a homogenized narrative management cartel, offering PR for war. This article never mentions FUKUS economic terrorism or pic.twitter.com/VPlet3glzU— vanessa beeley (@VanessaBeeley) June 22, 2021

theft of wheat and barley by US Coalition contra forces across Syria, nor does it mention deliberate burning of crops by Trump administration. Again, we have the reductionism of human suffering inflicted by neocolonialist regimes led by UK & US. Disgusting.— vanessa beeley (@VanessaBeeley) June 22, 2021

There are a host of other factors that have plagued Syria’s crops in recent years, largely ignored in Western reporting. 

In May last year, Syrian state media, citing civilian sources in southern Hasaka (northeastern Syria), reported,“a US Apache helicopter dropped a number of thermal balloons while flying close to the ground, setting a number of fires and burning more than 200 dunums (200,000 square metres) of wheat fields in Adla village, in Shaddadi countryside.” 

In June, Syria’s then-Permanent Representative to the UN, Dr. Bashar al-Ja’afari, spoke of “thousands of hectares of wheat fields” set ablaze, and further noted the US’ theft of Syrian oil, cotton and sheep. 

And, as I wrote“Civilians from affected areas near Turkish occupation posts likewise blame Turkish forces for setting fires and firing live ammunition upon those who attempt to extinguish the fires, farmers literally watching their livelihoods go up in flames. The Hasakah Agriculture Directorate director likewise blames Turkey for arson of the crops.” 

In July 2020, British journalist Vanessa Beeley wrote of the crop fires and the US economic war against Syria, noting: 

“According to estimates, 130,000 hectares of wheat and 180,000 hectares of barley have been destroyed by these fires to date.

At the same time, Turkey is reported to be forcing Syrian farmers to sell their wheat to Turkey in exchange for Turkish currency and US-backed Kurdish contras have restricted the sale of wheat to Damascus and are stockpiling reserves in areas they control, which account for an estimated 70 percent of total Syrian wheat production.”

The year prior, 85,000 hectares were burned. 

In June 2019, Reuters reported that even the UN admitted the possibility that terrorists had set fire to wheat crops, although it also pushed the line that “both sides” were accused of having done so. This is an utterly illogical claim, just as illogical as the claims of the government starving its people in AleppoMadaya, and in Ghouta, etc. – as I learned by going to those areas and speaking with civilians – turned out to be lies, obfuscating the terrorism of ‘rebel’ groups occupying those areas. 

DID THE GOVERNMENT IGNORE THE DROUGHTS? 

Critics of the Syrian government claim that it did not address the issue of droughts seriously. But is that true? 

Writer Louis Allday, in 2015, wrote of his 2009 experience as a research intern at the British Embassy in Damascus. He spoke of a UN briefing he attended in Damascus in July that year, saying that the UN Drought Joint Needs Assessment Mission (JNA) “praised the response of the Syrian Government more than once,” and, “summarised the measures that the government had already taken, these included the following: 

  • A food assistance programme that was supplementing the World Food Program’s efforts. 27,000-30,000 families were guaranteed support until December 2009.
  • Livestock feed had been subsidised.
  • Outstanding loans of farmers had been re-scheduled and micro-credit loans offered to them.
  • New teachers had been hired for affected regions.
  • Establishment of a government fund specifically for agricultural subsidies and support.”

Allday wrote of Syrian government representatives who had “openly asked for financial assistance (both short- and long-term) from international donors and stated that the Syrian Government’s efforts alone would not be sufficient to cope.” 

He finished by stressing that such attempts to claim the Syrian government had ignored drought issues was “at best, an unfair and inaccurate simplification of how the Syrian Government actually responded to the drought. At worst, it is an intentional and dishonest attempt to obscure the government’s evident attempts to solve the crisis and mitigate its impact.” 

In May 2021, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) offered further nuance. It noted that, aside from drought, “high costs of inputs hinder agricultural activities.” 

The FAO reported that “the high cost of fuel and its widespread shortage have constrained the use of irrigation, especially during the crucial development stages for the wheat crop in the spring.

Increases in transportation costs hamper marketing activities. High production costs may also induce farmers to not harvest the entire area planted with cereals and lease out the fields for grazing, usually by sheep and goats, whose owners remain under pressure from high feed prices. Leasing out the fields is likely, particularly in the rainfed areas where expected yields are lower.” 

The report spoke of Syria’s economic crisis increasing production costs and hampering “the access of farmers to agricultural inputs, which are mostly imported.”  

In June 2019, I met with a representative from Syria’s Ministry of Agriculture to discuss wheat and other agricultural issues. I was later emailed a report, ‘Reality of Wheat Production and Marketing up to 17/6/2019’, which noted some other reasons for poor crop production, including: 

  • Damage caused to state-run irrigation networks in some provinces and regions.
  • Shortage of power supplier equipment due to unilateral coercive measures imposed by some Western countries.
  • The tendency to grow barley at the expense of growing rain-fed and irrigated wheat, due to the low cost of barley cultivation.

In a September 2020 article, Beeley also noted the difficulty of fighting fires in Syria, noting that the Syrian Civil Defence is using badly outdated equipment in need of maintenance. 

“Equipment is maintained by local engineers who do their best to repair and restore machinery which is old and tired. Much of their equipment was stolen by the terrorist groups and the White Helmets when they invaded and occupied areas of Syria from 2011 onwards.

“Under the sanction regime imposed by the US Coalition, it has been impossible for the authentic Syria Civil Defence to replace the stolen equipment.” 

While negating these various factors, and only in passing mentioning the sanctions, Reuters’ report was actually fairer than most others in recent years on issues of drought and wheat. Most outright blame the ‘Assad regime’ for a wheat and bread crisis, with no mention of the above considerations. 

However, according to Human Rights Watch (HRW), (which never misses an opportunity to blame Syria!), the wheat and bread shortage is due to “bakeries destroyed” and “discriminatory policies” but none of the host of reasons I’ve listed! 

For their report, in addition to collecting information online, HRW noted they spoke to (a whopping!) “10 residents in government-held Syria.” Wow, definitive!

Regarding the discrimination claim: the report’s authors claim there are separate bread lines for members of the military and members of the public. But in my many experiences in Syria, walking past the bakeries providing the ridiculously inexpensive bread, among the long lines of people waiting I’ve seen civilians and soldiers in the same queues. 

On the note of subsidized bread, remind me when HRW’s America offered that to its impoverished citizens. I won’t hold my breath… 

Accusing Syria of depriving civilians of bread is an old theme. Last year, when a curfew was briefly implemented in Syria, an Istanbul-based war propagandist took to Twitter to claim that the government wasn’t providing subsidized bread. 

So, being in Damascus, I started documenting volunteers (often Ba’ath Party) distributing bread door-to-door in districts around the city. And for the sake of getting a wider scope on the situation, I asked friends in other provinces.

Volunteers distributing bread to homes, 50 SYP/bag of 7 pieces. pic.twitter.com/1m4ysOwFrb— Eva Karene Bartlett (@EvaKBartlett) April 3, 2020

That the media continue to push illogical lies about Syria, ten years on, is unsurprising. The bottom line, once again, is that those screaming that Assad is the reason for these crises don’t actually care about Syrians and actively avoid the truth for the sake of their own twisted narrative. 

As I wrote recently, “If America truly wanted to alleviate the suffering of Syrians, all sanctions against the country and people would be immediately lifted.” 

RELATED LINKS:

A Western-backed war couldn’t destroy Syria, now sanctions are starving its people

America’s Scorched Earth Policy Ensures Food Insecurity

Wildfires Rage Across Syria in Wake of Increased US-Led Economic Warfare

Western nations want ‘democracy’ in Syria so badly they close embassies and prevent Syrians from voting in presidential elections

Syrians filled the polling stations to defend their sovereignty and now fill the streets to celebrate the result

It’s 10 years since the war in Syria began, and Western media & pundits are still eager to keep it going

Western media quick to accuse Syria of ‘bombing hospitals’ – but when TERRORISTS really destroy Syrian hospitals, they are silent

This outstanding report from Syria by Eva Bartlett penetrates the ‘iron dome’ of Western propaganda, also known as news.
It is about a chemical attack that never happened in a country attacked, subverted and blockaded in your name.https://t.co/AX1Zwbg0g0— John Pilger (@johnpilger) May 27, 2021

Historic HRW Report: Israel Committing ‘Crime of Apartheid’ against Palestinians (FULL REPORT)

April 27, 2021

Palestinians cross Israeli apartheid wall. (Photo: via Activestills.org)

Human Rights Watch said Tuesday that Israel is committing the crime of “apartheid” by seeking to maintain Jewish “domination” over Palestinians and its own Arab population, an explosive allegation fiercely denounced by Israel.

Currently under investigation by the International Criminal Court for alleged war crimes, Israel blasted HRW’s accusations as “preposterous and false”, accusing the New York-based group of having “a long-standing anti-Israeli agenda”.

HRW said its finding that Israel is “committing the crimes against humanity of apartheid and persecution” against Palestinians was based on robust sourcing including government planning materials and statements by public officials.

The 213-page report finds that the Israeli government is the “single authority” with primary control “over the area between the Jordan River and Mediterranean Sea”.

Within that territory, there is “an overarching Israeli government policy to maintain the domination by Jewish Israelis over Palestinians,” HRW said.

HRW-Read-the-Full-Report

The group said its findings apply to Israeli treatment of Palestinians in the occupied West Bank, the blockaded Gaza Strip, annexed east Jerusalem as well as Arab Israelis — a term referring to Palestinians who stayed on their land following Israel’s creation in 1948.

HRW said that while apartheid was initially coined with respect to the institutional persecution of black people in South Africa, it was now a universally recognized legal term.

An apartheid system is defined by “inhuman acts committed for the purpose of establishing and maintaining domination by one racial group of persons over any other racial group of persons and systematically oppressing them,” according to the Apartheid Convention.

Omar Shakir, Israel and Palestine director at Human Rights Watch, told AFP there have been warnings for years that “apartheid is around the corner”.

“I think it’s quite clear that that threshold has been crossed,” Shakir said from Jordan.

A US citizen, Shakir was the first foreign national deported by Israel for allegedly supporting an international boycott movement that seeks to isolate Israel, an allegation he denies.

The rights group listed sweeping movement restrictions, land confiscation, forcible population transfer, denial of residency rights and suspension of civil rights as examples of abuses “Israeli authorities have carried out… against Palestinians”.

(The New Arab, PC, Social Media)

HRW: “Israel” Systematically Repressed Palestinians in 2020

HRW: “Israel” Systematically Repressed Palestinians in 2020

By Staff, Agencies

Human Rights Watch [HRW] says the apartheid “Israeli” regime “systematically repressed and discriminated” against Palestinians last year.

HRW said in a report on the year 2020 that the “Israeli” regime’s practices “far exceeded the security justifications” it often gave.

In the occupied West Bank, including East al-Quds [Jerusalem], the “Israeli” Occupation Forces [IOF] martyred 20 Palestinians and injured at least 2,001 as of October 5, HRW cited figures presented by the United Nations [UN] Office of Coordination for Humanitarian Affairs [OCHA].

“‘Israeli’ authorities have rarely held accountable security forces who used excessive force or settlers who attacked Palestinians,” HRW said.

It also cited the “Jerusalem [al-Quds] Legal Aid and Human Rights Center” as saying that the apartheid  “Israeli” entity held, as of September, the bodies of 67 Palestinians martyred since 2015.

The apartheid “Israeli” regime said in September last year that it would use the bodies of deceased Palestinians as bargaining chips to have the bodies of IOF members purportedly held by resistance factions in Gaza released.

The HRW also criticized the entity’s 13-year-old siege of the Gaza Strip and other restrictions imposed on the Palestinians in the enclave.

“These restrictions, not based on an individualized assessment of security risk, robbed with rare exceptions the 2 million Palestinians living there [the Gaza Strip] of their right to freedom of movement, limited their access to electricity and water, and devastated the economy,” the organization said.

The HRW also denounced the “Israeli” move to tighten the restrictions in August as “unlawful collective punishment.”

The report added that, “Egypt also sharply restricted the movement of people and goods at its Rafah crossing with Gaza.”

The New York-based group also said that the apartheid “Israeli” regime facilitated the further transfer of “Israelis” into settlements constructed in the occupied West Bank, slamming the practice as “a war crime”.

The HRW referred to a report by Peace Now in which the “Israeli” group said the “Israeli” entity last year approved the construction of more settler units in the occupied West Bank – 12,159 as of October 15 –more than in any other year since the group began tracking those statistics in 2012.

More than 600,000 “Israeli” settlers live in over 230 settlements built since the 1967 “Israeli” occupation of the Palestinian territories of the West Bank and East al-Quds.

All “Israeli” settlements are illegal under international law as they are built on occupied land.

The HRW also cited OCHA as saying that the “Israeli” entity demolished 568 Palestinian houses and other structures in the West Bank, including in East al-Quds, as of October 19, 2020, leaving 759 people displaced.

Most buildings were demolished under the pretext of lacking “Israeli” building permits, which are almost never given.

Referring to about 600 checkpoints and other permanent obstacles set up by the entity within the West Bank as of June, the HRW said, “‘Israeli’ forces routinely turn away or humiliate and delay Palestinians at checkpoints without explanation.”

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