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Dung fuel, dry “za’atar” seedlings and nylon waste… preparations for winter season in Syria’s north

A young girl preparing dung fuel in the "al-Ramdoun" camp in Kafr Aruq town, north of Idlib - September 2020 (Enab Baladi -Iyad Abdel Jawad)

A young girl preparing dung fuel in the "al-Ramdoun" camp in Kafr Aruq town, north of Idlib - September 2020 (Enab Baladi -Iyad Abdel Jawad)

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Umm Abdo left her tent to help her nine-year-old daughter, Maram, prepare dry dung fuel made of animal feces mixed with water and straw as discs. She had to bear the awful smell of the dung fuel discs that her daughter had been preparing for the whole day.

Outside the tent, the dung discs were distributed in a coordinated manner on the ground, and their smell was overwhelming, waiting to be dried in the sun. This scene was familiar to Umm Abdo from her childhood; however, she did not expect to see it again or to need dung discs fuel for heating in the coming winter.

Umm Abdo told Enab Baladi that her mother and grandmothers in the al-Dana town of Maarat al-Numan’s countryside used to make dry dung fuel to ignite the tandoor fire after covering it with firewood. Nevertheless, the area’s constant price increase made the dung discs essential for cooking and heating for all internally displaced people (IDPs) in the al-Ramdoun camp in Kafr Aruq town, north of Idlib.

What is dung fuel?

Dung fuel is black round discs made of animal dung, mainly goats and cows’ manure, and mixed with straw and water. After wetting and drying the dung for at least one night, it is made into a paste, then put into molds to take the shape of discs. Then, the discs are dried in the sun till they dry. Finally, the discs become ready to store and use to set fire with.

Umm Abdo suffers from asthma and allergy attacks triggered by strong smells. She said to Enab Baladi, “even though the dung fuel discs do not hide the manure’s smell even after becoming dry or upon burning, we are forced to use them, the gas and the firewood are expensive, and we need to provide heating to our children.”

The camp’s residents get livestock dung from their Bedouin neighbors and shepherds, who raise cows and sheep, and those who cannot obtain the components of the dung fuel search for other ways to prepare for winter.

Dry wild “origanum syriacum” (za’atar) seedlings, nylon waste, and quarrels over branches

In just three months, gas and fuel prices have risen five times in Syria’s northern region under the pretext of the Turkish lira’s depreciation against the US dollar. Last July, the “Syrian Salvation Government (SSG)” replaced the Syrian pound with the Turkish currency after the ongoing decline of the Syrian pound’s value. At the end of last September, the Turkish lira reached 7.8 against the US dollar.

The price of one liter of imported diesel oil reached 4.6 Turkish liras (TL = 0.58 USD), while gas cylinders were sold at the price of 65 (TL = 8.23 USD, according to the price bulletin set by “Watad Petroleum Company,” published on 24 September.

The majority of displaced families living in the camps are unable to secure fuel; therefore, their children collect branches and dry wild “origanum syriacum” (za’atar) seedlings, which lose their greenness after five harvesting seasons.

Abdul Razzaq Mohammed Ramdoun, the “al-Ramdoun” camp director, told Enab Baladi that the harvesting trips lead to quarrels between the IDPs and the villagers over the straw and dry branches.

Displaced older people and widows who cannot bear the hardship of collecting dry seedlings turn to markets to buy old shoes, cheap coal, or olive pomace fuel to use for heating.

According to the estimations of the al-Sheikh Idris camp’s director in Khirbet Ma’ez, Mahmoud Nayef al-Sayyed, the cost of one ton of olive pomace fuel is 100 USD, and the price of a ton of firewood is 150 USD; however, the displaced people cannot afford these amounts, that is why they seek to store what they used for heating in 2019, the nylon waste.

The displaced families collect nylon from the landfills and use it for heating despite its smoke’s risk to health, al-Sayyed said.

He added that “relief organizations offer us lectures about coronavirus protection, but they do not provide a cure for our poverty.”

According to the “REACH” Initiative’s assessment of the needs of newly displaced persons, at the end of September, 75 percent of households do not have heating fuel.

The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) issued a report on 9 September, which said that the high prices of fuel, bread, and transportation “marginalized” the poor and alienated them in the region.


This report was prepared with the contribution of Enab Baladi’s correspondent in Idlib’s countryside Iyad Abdel Jawad

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