Syrian civil war devastates farming: U.N.

Wed Jan 23, 2013 4:26pm EST
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By Catherine Hornby and Alexander Dziadosz

ROME/BEIRUT (Reuters) - 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 radicalized, 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.   Continued...

Free Syrian Army fighters and residents are seen near buildings damaged after what activists say were missiles fired by Syrian Air Force fighter jets loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad, in Erbeen, near Damascus January 21, 2013, in this picture provided by Shaam News Network. REUTERS/Maawia Al-Naser/Shaam News Network/Handout