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Syria Turns the School Playgrounds into Vegetable Gardens to Feed Hungry Children

The ongoing crisis in Syria is having a devastating effect on the health and nutrition of an entire generation of children

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A boy sells vegetables and fruits along a street in the Damascus suburb of Qudsaya, Syria
A boy sells vegetables and fruits along a street in the Damascus suburb of Qudsaya, Syria. VOA
  • Young children are often the most vulnerable to malnutrition in a crisis
  • Good nutrition is a child’s first defense against common diseases

School playgrounds across Syria are being transformed into vegetable gardens where children whose diets have been devastated by six years of war can learn to grow and then eat — aubergines, lettuces, peppers, cabbages, and cucumbers.

Traditional Syrian cuisine is typical of the region and rich in vegetables. Its mainstays include hummus, minced lamb cooked with pine nuts and spices, varied salads, stews made with green beans, okra or courgettes and tomatoes, stuffed cabbage leaves and artichoke hearts.

But the six-year war has changed that for much of the population, and many now live mainly on bread or food aid.

According to U.N. figures, unemployment now stands at more than 50 percent, and nearly 70 percent of the population is living in extreme poverty, in what was once a relatively wealthy country.

“The ongoing crisis in Syria is having a devastating effect on the health and nutrition of an entire generation of children,” Adam Yao, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization’s (FAO) acting representative in Syria, said on Tuesday, ahead of the start of the school year.FAO is helping some 17 primary schools in both government and opposition-controlled areas to plant up to 500 meter-square fruit and vegetable plots in war-torn areas including Aleppo, Hama, Homs, Idlib and the outskirts of Damascus.

FAO is helping some 17 primary schools in both government and opposition-controlled areas to plant up to 500 meter-square fruit and vegetable plots in war-torn areas including Aleppo, Hama, Homs, Idlib and the outskirts of Damascus.Young children are often the most vulnerable to malnutrition in a crisis, which can have serious and long-lasting effects on their growth and future development.

Young children are often the most vulnerable to malnutrition in a crisis, which can have serious and long-lasting effects on their growth and future development.

“Good nutrition is a child’s first defense against common diseases and important for children to be able to lead an active and healthy life,” Yao added.

The primary schools, which began planting in May, have produced 12 tons of fruit and vegetables. Another 35 schools are expected to start transforming their playgrounds soon in Aleppo and in rural areas around Damascus.

Also Read: Ground Report: How ISIS is ruining lives of people in Syria and Iraq

Rising prices, falling production

The price of food has risen since the start of the war — agriculture production has plummeted, and the country now relies on food imports to make up the shortfall. Transporting food around the country has also become difficult and costly.

About 13.5 million people in Syria are in need of humanitarian assistance. Of those, 7 million are unable to meet their basic food needs.

Some 5 million people receive international food aid, but not everyone in need can be reached, and the World Food Program says it has had to cut a number of calories in its family food baskets because of funding shortages.

“The donors are generous, but we don’t know how long they can continue to be generous and rely on taxpayers’ money,” the FAO’s Yao told Reuters.

Vulnerable families are receiving help from FAO to grow food at home, so they can become less reliant on food aid.

“Food aid is very important, but … we should combine both, in a way that people grow their own food and move away from food aid gradually,” he said.

In a country where more than half the population has been forced to flee their homes, many moving several times, investing in agriculture helps people to stay put for as long as it is safe, Yao added.

“Agriculture has become a hope for [many] because they can grow their own food and survive — even in the besieged areas.” (VOA)

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UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres Warns Countries Advocating Fossil Fuels

Antonio Guterres called on the nations that aren't taking action against climate change

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Antonio Guterres
UN Sec-Gen Antonio Guterres warns countries advocating usage of fossil fuels. Wikimedia Commons

BY VISHAL GULATI

United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres on Wednesday in a stern warning called on the nations advocating for fossil fuels and creating roadblocks in carbon neutral transition asking them to end those activities soon.

“I also call on anyone who is still lobbying their governments for a slow transition or even no transition – to end those activities now. The world is watching,” he emphasised in his address in the final week of the United Nations climate talks, COP25, which is being hosted in Madrid.

Shifting taxes from income to carbon, ending subsidies for fossil fuels, and ending investments in and construction of coal plants by 2020 are all efforts that will benefit from bold and genuine business buy-in and support, he said.

In 2020, many governments will present enhanced Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs). We expect to see carbon neutrality strategies for 2050, and the decarbonisation of key sectors, such as energy, industry, construction and transport, added the UN Secretary General.

“In support of these efforts, I am calling on you, leaders from the private sector, to challenge your governments to use this opportunity to make clear their economic development policies that will enable your companies to invest decisively in a net-zero future,” Guterres said.

“We are still seeing too many bureaucratic and regulatory obstacles, including perverse fossil fuel subsidies and many other expressions of government action slowing down the private sector commitment to climate action.

Antonio Guterres
Antonio Guterres calls on leaders from private sectors to challenge their governements. Wikimedia Commons

“Only through positive ambition can private and public partners successfully drive ambitious climate action, particularly in hard-to-abate sectors,” the UN chief said.

To limit global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, there is a need to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 45 per cent by 2030 and achieve carbon neutrality by 2050.

“While we see some incremental steps towards sustainable business models, it is nowhere near the scope or scale required. What we need is not an incremental approach, but a transformational one. We need businesses to unite behind the science by taking rapid and ambitious action across their operations and value chains,” Guterres said.

I am encouraged that more than 170 major companies have already committed to set scientific, verifiable emission reduction targets aligned with a 1.5-degree future through the aBusiness Ambition for 1.5 degrees’ campaign, he added.

By stepping up and setting science-based targets, these companies are pioneering new ways of doing business and driving systemic change throughout the global economy,” he said.

They are also sending a clear signal to consumers, investors and governments that they intend to lead as the global economy undergoes a just transition to a net-zero future by 2050.

At the same time, the financial community is increasingly demonstrating commitment to the opportunities of a green economy.

UN secretary Antonio Guterres
“Only through positive ambition can private and public partners successfully drive ambitious climate action,” says Antonio Guterres. Wikimedia Commons

Investors managing close to $4 trillion dollars in assets have committed to converting their investment portfolios to net-zero emissions by 2050 through the UN-convened Net Zero Asset Owner Alliance, and the markets are shifting more and more each day, Guterres said.

But business and financial actors can’t do this alone, he stressed.

“As we saw at the Climate Action Summit in September, the determination demonstrated by business and financial leaders offers a potential path of hope. As businesses back away from fossil fuels it helps send market signals to massively scale up innovative solutions. While we thank those leaders, we urgently need more to join and shift the pace to higher gears,” Guterres said.

The magnitude of the climate crisis is jeopardizing our future and life on the planet as we know it. Climate change is already disrupting people, business operations, economies and ecosystems around the world.

Also Read- Around 400mn Lives to be Affected by Year 2100 if Greenland Ice Melts at its Current Rate

More than ever we need governments, regions, cities, businesses and civil society to work together towards a common goal of a more just, sustainable and prosperous world,” he said, adding he has come back to COP25 to appeal for a successful conclusion of the conference and increased climate action and ambition, he noted. (IANS)