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Thousands of families flee Syria drought

Three years of drought have caused widespread food and water shortages in the poorest eastern part of Syria. About 300,000 families have been driven out of their homes to Damascus, Aleppo and other cities in what the United Nations has dubbed “ one of the largest internal displacements in the Middle East in recent years.” “Our wells are dry, and the rains don’t come,” said Ahmed Abu Hamed Mohieddin, a wheat farmer from the town of Qamishli. “We cannot depend on God’s will for our crops. We come to the city, where the money is,” he told Bloomberg news service. He and three sons work as porters in the capital’s vegetable markets.

Children are particularly at risk from malnutrition, warn the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF)."It is not just about a scarcity of food: there are poor traditional feeding practices as well," said a spokesperson. There was a drastic rise in nutrition-related diseases over the past three years, the organisation said and 42 per cent of children in the north eastern Al-Raqqa area suffer from anaemia.The World Food Programme said today it would start handing out food rations to under five year olds and pregnant and nursing mothers in Al-Shadadi District, Al-Hassakeh Governorate, one of the worst-affected areas where the most people have fled and schools been closed. The winter rain “means farmers in the north east may have crops after the harvest,” the organization’s country director, Mohannad Hadi, told Syria Today magazine. “But it won’t put food on the table for them today.”

As many as 1.3 million people have been affected by the shortages and The lack of water has caused more than 800,000 people in eastern Syria to lose “almost all of their livelihoods and face extreme hardship,” according to a report by the UN. About 80 percent of the hardest hit “live on a diet consisting of bread and sugared tea,” the report said. "Most families have not consumed animal protein in months and daily meals have been reduced from three to one for adults, and to two for children,” it added warning that people will be in "dire need" of food, farming and other aid until mid-2010. Eastern Syria has always been a poor and vulnerable part of the country, heavily dependent on agriculture. Economic development has been difficult and levels of education, health and nutrition lag behind those in the rest of the country.

By Hayley Jarvis for SOS Children