Less bread, more guns

December 17, 2013 - 7:15:24 am

With bread becoming scarce amid a food crisis in Syria, it is time for the international community to hold Assad to account.

The International Rescue Committee has reported that starvation is threatening the Syrian population. So a glut of guns and missiles in the country has replaced bread, or so it seems. The shocking report came as the United Nations launched a record $6.5bn humanitarian appeal for the battle-scarred nation led by a recalcitrant Bashar Al Assad. 

The aid appeal by the world body comes as the Syrian conflict enters a phase wherein both sides are in a virtually sustainable battle mode. Killings and plunder continue to ravage the West Asian nation of 22.4 million. The conflict that has been precipitated by the refusal of Assad to give up power amid the Arab Spring revolts is the most complicated one with ethnic, religious and political rivalries stoking tensions. 

As the snow kept large parts of Syria under a white shroud, Syrians endured one of the harshest winters amid the rattle of gunfire. UN humanitarian chief Valerie Amos yesterday said that Syrian refugees ask her why they have been abandoned by the world. Bread prices have increased by 500 percent since the conflict started in early 2011. Though far from being so severe, it is a reminder of the days of the 1930s’ Depression in Germany when galloping inflation made the Deutsche Mark lose its value so much so that the price of bread would rise many fold as one left home for the baker. 

The images of Syrian children — gaunt and chubby— being fed by their parents in refugee camps in neighbouring Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey, present an opportunity for the world to introspect the meaning of war. The United Nations’ plea for humanitarian help for Syrians reeks of a desperation propelled by an inability to do much about ending the conflict. 

The incessant support of Iran, China and Russia for Assad and his supporters has emboldened the leader who calls fighters “terrorists”. The world wouldn’t have forgotten the online shopping binges of the Alawite leader and his wife Asma even as Syria burned during the early days of the revolt. International humanitarian organisations had warned of an impending crisis in Syria — but no one imagined it would come to this. Probably, there is no dearth of guns and bullets in the country. However, bread now seems scarce. Four of five Syrians believe bread would become unavailable. 

As international politics becomes more complex, the humanitarian side of a crisis is often ignored. As the world’s attention was fixated on the Iran nuclear talks and the death of anti-apartheid icon Nelson Mandela, the focus on the Syria conflict likely became hazy.  Now is the time when the United Nations should whip up a frenzy of support for the humanitarian crisis in Syria. This might help shore up support for rebels fighting Assad and bring his egregiousness into focus•

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