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ROME, July 14 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - More than a million sheep, goats and cows have been treated for parasites in Syria to help resurrect the country's war-battered food production and shore up its female farmers, a U.N. agency said on Friday.
Syria's six-year conflict has caused widespread damage to agriculture and left 7 million people without enough to eat, according to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
Fighting destroyed veterinary clinics, sparked vaccine shortages and restricted vets' access to rural areas, leaving many herds exposed to infections.
"The risk of trans-boundary animal diseases spreading rapidly and beyond borders remains a major concern," the FAO representative in Syria, Adam Yao, said in a statement.
"If no drastic measures are immediately taken, the effects on livestock production and food security can be devastating."
The FAO said it had wrapped up a three-month, anti-parasite campaign, reaching 234,000 farmers in government and rebel-held areas in ten regions, including Homs, Aleppo and Hasakeh.
The recipients were mostly women, who are traditionally responsible for livestock in rural Syria and who now make up more than 60 percent of the country's agricultural workforce.
"This is often their only source of income to feed their families," said Yao.
The U.S.-funded campaign was aimed at small farmers who could not afford to buy drugs that protect against lice, tube worms and other parasites, as war has driven up prices, said FAO senior livestock officer George Khoury.
"Parasites cause a lot of damage to the health of the animals. (They) reduce productivity, fertility and transmit diseases," Khoury said by phone.
More than 1.3 million sheep and goats and 65,000 cows were treated - about 20 percent of Syria's livestock population, which he estimated had dropped by 40 percent since the beginning of the war.
Fighting has caused at least $16 billion in damage to local agriculture, leading to extensive crop and livestock losses as well as the destruction of greenhouses, irrigation systems, tractors and other assets. (Reporting by Umberto Bacchi @UmbertoBacchi, Editing by Lyndsay Griffiths. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit news.trust.org)