GENEVA/ROME Up to 3 million Syrians are likely to need food, crop and livestock aid in the next 12 months as the conflict raging in their country has prevented farmers harvesting crops, U.N. agencies said on Thursday.
The World Food Programme (WFP) and the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) said about 1.5 million people need urgent and immediate food aid and close to a million require crop and livestock assistance. One in three rural residents would need help, they said.
"If timely assistance is not provided, the livelihood system of these vulnerable people could simply collapse in a few months' time," Abdulla BinYehia, FAO representative in Syria, said in a statement.
Citing a joint assessment by the United Nations and the Syrian government, the agencies said the agricultural sector had lost $1.8 billion this year, with wheat and barley badly hit.
The assessment, conducted in June and compiled in July, said wheat harvesting had been delayed in Deraa, rural Damascus, Homs and Hama provinces because of a lack of labor and a reluctance to rent out farm machinery due to the conflict.
"There is thus a great risk of losing part of the crop if there is further delay," the report said.
In the month since the assessment was done, violence has worsened and spread to Damascus and Aleppo, Syria's two largest cities, where fighting continued on Thursday.
About 80 percent of the 11 million Syrians who live in the countryside rely on farming for their income.
In 2010, before the 17-month-old revolt against President Bashar al-Assad erupted, more than 3 million hectares - the bulk of the cultivated land - was sown with wheat and barley.
The report cited senior officials in Syria's Directorate of Agriculture as saying Al Hassake governorate, which had 1.1 million hectares of wheat and barley in 2010, feared this year's crop could be cut by 30 percent.
On Wednesday, WFP said it was sending immediate food aid to 28,000 people in Syria's biggest city, Aleppo, convulsed by more than a week of fighting between troops and rebels.
The agency says it faces a $62 million funding shortfall on an overall budget of $103 million for its Syrian operation.
(Reporting by Tom Miles and Catherine Hornby; Editing by Alistair Lyon)