Last month, Kentucky Fried Chicken was forced to shut down its Damascus franchise due to operational difficulties amid the country’s crippling food shortage and bloody civil war. According to a recent report in the Atlantic, four million Syrians are currently facing food insecurity, with more than half of the Syrian population living in poverty.
KFC had to leave the country because it could no longer acquire the necessary amount of chickens for its fast food meals. Poultry production has decreased by half since the Syrian civil war began in 2011. When chickens from local Syrian farms could no longer be produced, the American franchise decided to import chickens from Lebanon. But violence on the roads and sky-rocketing diesel prices made importing impossible.
KFC first opened in Damascus in 2006, Syria’s first American restaurant, whose fried chicken is a popular commodity across the Middle East. Operated by the Americana Group, there are 450 KFC restaurants in 12 countries across the Middle East region, including Egypt, Jordan, and Lebanon. The United Arab Emirates opened its 100th KFC branch this year.
But Syrians need much more than fried chicken and fast food. With the impending winter, many Syrians will not survive because they are simply starving – they are cut off from food supplies, electricity, water and any aid after being under siege for months. The situation is especially hard on children. Der Spiegal reported that while three-year-old Ibrahim Khalil survived the Assad regime’s chemical weapons attack on August 21, the toddler died ten days later of hunger. And Dr. Aminn Abu Ammar of Muadhamiya stated that many children in his Damascus suburb are already so weak that “even an ordinary cold could kill them.”
In addition, as the Syrian economy dramatically deteriorates, a “violence-based economy” has emerged, according to Rabi Nasser of the Syrian Center for Political Research in Damascus in a Deutsche Welle report. Smugglers, racketeers, and criminals are reportedly creating their own monopoly for selling food and medicine and encroaching on legitimate businesses in the war-torn country.
According to a recent UN-commissioned report, 115,000 people have been killed in Syria and millions of others have been displaced in the past two years. About 4.4 million Syrians are now living in extreme poverty with half of the country unemployed.
Syria’s neighboring country, Israel, has been quietly aiding refugees, both sending supplies and providing Israeli hospital care and medical treatment to wounded Syrians – children and adults – caught in the crossfire.
The Israeli non-profit, IsraAid, has sent approximately $100,000 worth of supplies throughout the past year, and other Israeli groups comprised of private citizens like Hand in Hand, have also collected and sent clothing and supplies to Syrian refugees located in Jordan. IsraAid recently sent to Syrian refugees in Jordan sacks of dry goods filled with lentils, powdered milk, pasta, and tea.
The question remains whether the international community will take a loud and effective stand on the Syrian situation or will it allow Assad to continue to exert brutality and violence against his people, while the rest of the Middle East enjoys its KFC.