World Bulletin / News Desk
Syria's 22-month civil war has ravaged vital infrastructure and halved the output of staple crops, the United Nations said on Wednesday, underscoring the lasting damage from which the country will take years to recover.
What began as a peaceful protest movement against President Bashar al-Assad has killed more than 60,000 people, devastated the economy and left 2.5 million people hungry.
Prospects of a negotiated peace have receded as the war becomes more overtly sectarian, making Western powers more wary of supporting the largely Sunni Muslim, and increasingly rebellion.
Human Rights Watch on Wednesday pointed to the burning and looting of religious sites of minorities in recent months that suggested an escalation of sectarian strife.
As fighting raged throughout the country, Assad's most powerful foreign backer Russia said the war would not be resolved peacefully as long as rebels insist on his overthrow.
Detailing the damage from the longest and deadliest of the Arab uprisings, the U.N.'s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) said wheat and barley production in Syria had dropped to 2 million tonnes in 2012 from 4-4.5 million tonnes in normal years.
Agriculture is vital to the economy, accounting for roughly a fifth of gross domestic product before the war.
A U.N. assessment in Syria this month, coordinated with both Syria's government and the opposition, found the conflict was destroying infrastructure and irrigation systems and that insecurity and fuel shortages were making it harder for farmers to harvest crops.
The devastation to farming could push the government to spend more money on food imports, further straining the resources of a country that officials said was self-sufficient in wheat before the conflict.
"The mission was struck by the plight of the Syrian people whose capacity to cope is dramatically eroded by 22 months of crisis," Dominique Burgeon, director of FAO's Emergency and Rehabilitation Division, said in a statement.
"Destruction of infrastructure in all sectors is massive and it is clear that the longer the conflict lasts, the longer it will take to rehabilitate it," he said.
Power cuts and fuel shortages have become part of daily life and residents of central Damascus, which had been spared the worst fallout of the war, say basic services are breaking down.
Drivers in Damascus said there had been no petrol in the capital for two days.
A black market for fuel has developed in which traders charge roughly 20 percent more than government prices, residents said. Some also reported food shortages in the city centre.
Severe shortages have also hit other parts of Syria, especially rebel-held areas subjected to daily bombardment by government artillery and warplanes.Last Mod: 24 Ocak 2013, 09:56