Some people also say that security forces have purposely destroyed or spoiled the stores of olives, oil, yogurt and preserved vegetables that Syrians often keep in their houses, especially in winter when fresh produce is more scarce.
“During home raids, soldiers will go out of their way to destroy whatever was in the house, or mix things together to spoil the food,” said one researcher from Human Rights Watch, who spoke anonymously because of safety fears, citing interviews with some of the thousands of refugees who have poured into neighboring Lebanon.
Syrian officials did not respond to requests for comment.
Poverty, sanctions, anger
The need is also severe, according to the World Food Programme, in rural areas where people were struggling to cope even before the uprising, after four consecutive years of drought and poor harvests.
But with the gap in wealth between drought-stricken rural residents and a prosperous urban elite a crucial part of the discontent that fueled the uprising, the Syrian government is acutely conscious of the need to minimize the rise in food prices, said Jihad Yazigi, a Damascus-based economist who edits the Syria Report Web site.
As sanctions imposed by the United States, European Union, Turkey and some Arab countries have bitten deeper, Yazigi said, imports have slowed and the price of food increased. So the government in March introduced a system of price-fixing for essential foods that has stabilized the cost of bread, sugar and meat — although they remain much higher than they were a year ago.
“The idea was to respond to popular anger at rising prices,” he said.
Despite efforts to mitigate the problem, around half of Syrians may live in poverty, said Salman Shaikh of the Brookings Institute in Doha, who argued that this is increasing anti-government feeling.
“I think the new hardships are certainly blamed on the regime itself,” Shaikh said. “But I would say the general mood is one of anger rather than lying down.”
“People are under the most incredible pressure, but they continue to demonstrate in some of the poorest and hardest-hit areas. There are those who will be yearning for stability but I don’t know if people think they can go back to the status quo.”