Coronavirus stimulates growth of some industries in Syria… Will they lead to increased economic activity?

Workers in a factory for manufacturing protective face masks in the city of Idlib - 29 March 2020 (Enab Baladi/Youssef Gharib)

Workers in a factory for manufacturing protective face masks in the city of Idlib - 29 March 2020 (Enab Baladi/Youssef Gharib)

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Enab Baladi – Ali Darwish

With blue barrels for mixing chemical substances and plastic containers filled with raw materials lined up on the shelves of his small factory, in the city of Idlib, northwest Syria, the chemistry student, Abdul Rahman, who was displaced from the town of Arbin, Eastern Ghouta, Damascus, began manufacturing sterilizers after the breakout of the novel coronavirus (known COVID-19).

Speaking to Enab Baladi, Abdul Rahman said that his previous rudimentary experience in manufacturing detergents and his study of chemistry were a starting point for his production of sterilizers in his small factory, especially after the increase in their prices and people’s demands.

Abdul Rahman was able to manufacture sterilizers after he secured the raw materials, indicating that the production processes need advanced machines, tools, and production lines, but with previous experience and primitive tools, he ensured part of the region’s need for sterilizers.

Abdul Rahman pointed out that the demand for sterilizers has boosted, by organizations, shops, hospitals, and schools after coronavirus cases were recorded in the opposition-controlled areas in northern Syria. 

Abdul Rahman’s success in manufacturing sterilizers coincided with the emergence of several enterprises to secure the requirements to prevent the spread of coronavirus, whether in the regime or opposition-controlled areas.

Further use of sewing machines with the increased demands for masks

Ahmad Abdul Rahman, a displaced person from the city of Saraqib in the eastern countryside of Idlib, has brought with him seven sewing machines. Now, the number of sewing machines amounted to 55, employing about 60 workers ( including 15 female workers) in Idlib.

Ahmad Abdul Rahman told Enab Baladi that he studied the mask manufacturing costs, then he attracted some tailors to work in his sewing factory. After a short while, the factory was expanded, and the number of sewing machines was increased after the high demand for masks. 

Protective face masks produced by Abdul Rahman’s factory were not only exclusively delivered to the city of Idlib, but orders were also requested from the province of Deir Ezzor, north-east Syria, and Iraq. However, roads were cut off by the outbreak of the coronavirus, which stopped exports of the coronavirus protective masks.

 Abdul Rahman’s factory produces ten thousand masks daily to meet the needs of the local market, as the demand for masks increased after confirmed coronavirus infections were declared in the opposition-controlled areas. It is worth mentioning that Abdul Rahman’s sewing factory is one of several factories that have switched to the production of masks in the region.

 Syrian regime-held areas: volunteering and activating the production of coronavirus preventive equipment

The Syrian regime-held areas have seen a spike of activity in manufacturing masks and sanitizers. This activity ranged between volunteer work of associations, charitable foundations,  and vocational schools, in addition to increasing the production of clothing factories and state-owned chemical factories. 

On 13 August, the governorate of Deir Ezzor opened a workshop for making cloth face masks that can be used multiple times in the Madina Women’s school. In As-Suwayda, a workshop made up of teaching staff and vocational students started manufacturing face masks. Furthermore, several charitable associations launched initiatives in Rif Dimashq, al-Hasakeh, and other parts of the country, according to the government newspaper “Tishreen.”  

Al-Mouwasat University Hospital in Damascus has carried out workshops for manufacturing face masks. Its daily production led to the provision of masks for all the nursing and medical staff, administrators, healthcare workers, and cleaners, the Director-General of al-Mouswasat University Hospital, Essam al-Amin told the local newspaper, al-Watan, last March. 

Several clothing companies have designated a line for the production of medical masks, including the “Ready-to-Wear Industrial Company of Aleppo” (Zenobia and Shamra), with a production capacity of 100 masks per minute, according to Tishreen.

During the first quarter of this year, three industrial establishments specialized in the production of sterilizers, and disinfectants were licensed in the governorate of Homs in addition, the presence of 13 additional establishments with a total annual production capacity of 3,083 tons. 

Moreover, there is one facility for the production and manufacture of disposable sterile medical face masks with an annual production capacity of 900,000 masks, according to what engineer Bassam al-Saeed, Director of Homs Industry, told al-Watan newspaper, last April.

The industrialist, Assem Tayfour, has criticized the Syrian government’s decision to stop an electronic machine introduced by an industrialist to produce face masks. The machine was placed in al-Debs Company in Damascus, which produces 300 masks per minute, but the decision was to stop the machine’s work eventhough it does not cost the government a single Syrian Pound (SYP).

Opposition-held areas are an economically better incubator

Economic researcher Manaf Quman said, in an interview with Enab Baladi, that the manufacture of medical supplies and equipment (masks and sterilizers) does not contribute effectively to pushing the economic wheel or revitalizing the local economy.

Quman explained that these industries are mainly concerned with the medical sector, limited to one product in this sector, noting these industries do not include the entire pharmaceutical industry.

In other countries, it is possible that the medical industries will contribute to revitalizing the economic activity, due to the multiplicity of the materials and supplies produced, because there are pharmaceutical companies, respiratory device companies, some medical device companies, and face mask companies. On the other hand, companies in Syria are mostly limited to manufacturing masks and sterile products. 

With the beginning of the global spread of “coronavirus,” “Ford,” “Volkswagen,” “Toyota,” “General Motors” and “Fiat” began producing respirators and face masks.

The opposition-held areas are characterized by being primarily agricultural, and food industries rely on agricultural lands, with no need for significant capital, and a person can establish a small and larger enterprise, according to Quman.

The US sanctions imposed on Syria under Caesar Act, together with the previous economic sanctions, will significantly reduce all industries in the Syrian regime-held areas and even the new investment in the industry sector. Industrial establishments, in general, need imported raw materials, but the process of importing materials from abroad requires opening bank accounts and financial credits, and this is very difficult in the next stage because of the “Caesar Law,” according to Quman.

The regime-controlled areas do not allow new investments and industries, except for industries undertaken by the regime itself, with no orientation at all towards investment policies, industries, and so forth.

As for the opposition-controlled areas, there is a “great and very valuable” opportunity in terms of establishing factories and taking care of industries, especially food and agricultural industries, and in this context, it can be said that opposition areas are an incubation environment for work, according to Quman.

The number of patients with coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) in the regime-controlled areas reached 1,515, of which 403 cases were cured, and 58 died, according to the data of the Syrian regime’s Ministry of Health. 

On the other hand,  the opposition-controlled areas recorded 51 coronavirus infection cases, as of 15 August, according to the Early Warning and Epidemic Response Network.

 

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