With breadbasket gone, will residents of Darayya ‘kneel or starve’?

Regime forces took half a square kilometer of Darayya’s farmland on June 24 and captured all 300 dunums (74 acres) of its farms on July 13, according to pro-regime al-Masdar news.

The only source for food for the encircled town, less than 10km southwest of Damascus, is now gone.

The farmland, which produced 30 tons of wheat for the town’s 8,000 residents, “was the basis of life in Darayya,” Karam a-Shami, a spokesman for the Local Council of Darayya, tells Syria Direct’s Bahira al-Zarier.

Darayya, the first city to rise up against the regime, is strategically located near several regime military facilities, including the Mezzeh Military Airport. It is one of the most frequently bombed in Syria. The regime has dropped more than 6,800 barrel bombs on the city since the beginning of its encirclement in November 2012.   

The only solution, said a-Shami, is for more aid to enter the city, although residents lack confidence in the UN and international community to respond.

“Death will be certain if the siege continues.”

Q: Has Darayya lost its entire breadbasket? How much wheat did the land yield?

We don’t have any more farmland in Darayya. Before seizing the land, Assad destroyed the crops. We don’t have an exact statistic, but we produced about 30 tons of wheat [annually]. It was our most strategic crop. We also planted beans, spinach, arugula and mint.

This farmland was the basis of life in Darayya. It was the only source of food, particularly wheat, since the UN hasn’t been able to deliver any significant aid to civilians.

People relied entirely on the crops, which met the needs of most families in the city.

 Map of Darayya (in green). The blue represents land the regime has seized since May. Photo courtesy of Local Council of Darayya

Q: Where did the farmers go?

Most people aren’t farmers but they worked in agriculture because of the blockade. After the regime took the farmland, they fled to the center of city, even though 80% of the residential buildings are destroyed.

Q: What is the solution?

To be honest, there is no solution except for allowing aid to enter the city. We see this as far-fetched, considering both the UN and international community’s weak stance in front of Assad. The regime is insistent with its motto “kneel or starve.”

Q: What will people do now? Is starvation a real possibility?

We don’t expect deaths in the next few days, but death will be certain if the siege continues. Things are getting more difficult with each hour. We exhausted our entire food depository at the beginning of Ramadan.

There is fear for the lives of the injured, elderly and young children who need a certain amount of food and can’t hold out against hunger.

Q: How long has the regime controlled this area?

The regime has gained territory over several months. Each time we lost a part of the city until we came to this point.

Bahira al-Zarier

Bahira is from Damascus. She studied business and marketing before moving to Jordan in 2013. She did volunteer work in support of many refugee organizations before joining Syria Direct.

Jessica Page, Reporter/Translator

Jessica was a 2013-2014 Georgetown University Qatar Scholarship Program fellow in Doha, Qatar. She received her BA in both Arabic and International & Area Studies from Washington University in St. Louis. She has worked and studied in Jordan, Oman, and Qatar.

Kristen Demilio

Kristen Gillespie Demilio has more than 10 years of experience reporting from the Middle East while based in Amman. She regularly contributed to news outlets including CBS News Radio, NPR, The Jerusalem Report and PBS and is a graduate of Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism as well as the Institut Français des Etudes Arabes in Damascus.