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‘We need money to secure bread’: Blockaded northern Homs town out of options

For the past two months, bread has been largely absent […]

For the past two months, bread has been largely absent from the opposition-held northern Homs town of Rastan.

After meeting with dozens of residents, the civilian local council suspended its operations on Sunday and launched an urgent appeal to humanitarian organizations for aid.

The council called for international and local organizations to “extend a helping hand,” criticizing the United Nations and the “negligence of the [opposition] interim government and provincial council” in a statement on Monday.

Rastan lies on the northern edge of a pocket of rebel-held territories in the northern Homs countryside, encircled by the regime for the past four years.

 Children in a-Rastan this month. Photo courtesy of Yaarub a-Daali.

With no money and no immediate solution, the local council has essentially given up on feeding its 65,000 residents, including 10,000 internally displaced people. The last aid convoy to reach the encircled town came almost a year ago.

“The local council is unable to do anything, and has no alternatives,” Yaarub a-Daali, a journalist and activist in Rastan tells Syria Direct’s Sama Mohammed and Nisreen A-Nasser.

Q: When did the bread shortage begin?

There is a shortage of food in Rastan, and over the past two months only a very small amount of bread has been secured for the residents.

When the local council has money, bread is baked [and provided at a subsidized rate]. The local council currently has no funding, so it has not provided bread.

Q: How much does bread cost in Rastan?            

A kilo of bread costs SP500 (approx. $2.65). There are eight loaves of bread in a bag, and each family needs two or three bags, so most pay SP1,000 (approx. $5.30) per day.

This is a large sum of money for residents because of the lack of work opportunities.

People have resorted to bread made from barley, and it is of bad quality and in small quantities. They are eating legumes and meals that do not require bread.

Q: Why hasn’t aid entered Rastan?

The Red Crescent and the United Nations consider Rastan a conflict area, so it is not included in the seven of 18 [UN-recognized] areas receiving aid.

Media, residents and local leaders have launched the “Siege’s Wail” media campaign as an appeal for aid directed at the international community.

[Ed.: Seven besieged areas and towns (Madaya, Deir e-Zor, Fuaa and Kafariya, Outer Damascus, Moadimiyet a-Sham, and Kafr Batna) have received aid shipments in recent days under the terms of an ongoing ceasefire. The UN officially recognizes 18 besieged communities in Syria with half a million people in need of assistance. A February report by the Siege Watch monitoring organization places the number higher, at over one million people in need living in 46 communities. The UN does not designate the northern Homs countryside as a besieged area.]

Q: Why has the appeal for aid been launched now?

Appeals have been launched several times in the past, but with no response.

The entry of displaced people to Rastan has also led to an increase in the amount of bread that the city needs.

Q: Are there any alternatives or solutions to the bread crisis?

Currently, the local council is unable to do anything, and has no alternatives.  It has taken responsibility [for the shortage] onto itself, suspending its operations in response to residents’ complaints.

Those responsible are the ones concerned with securing the necessary funds to provide subsidized bread, at their head the opposition Homs provincial council.

There is a plan in the short term. After the harvest in three months, we will store up wheat and process it into flour that will not be sold to any party whatsoever, and establish our own warehouses.

As for right now, we need money to secure bread in the coming three months until the harvest comes.

Q: How is the humanitarian situation in Rastan?

The situation is miserable. Some of the residents cannot secure their daily food, and sometimes resort to eating one meal a day, not even a complete meal. Children have it the worst, because they can’t bear the hunger.

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