Private bakeries in Homs are banned from operating despite bread crisis
Homs – Orwa al-Mundhir
“I have a hard time getting a loaf of bread, yet, I have no choice. The government-subsidized bread is difficult to obtain because I have to wait in very long lines. Besides, bread loaves are of very poor quality. On the other hand, bread produced by private bakeries is not available because their licenses are not renewed.”
With these words, Khadija Mahmoud, a resident of the village of al-Farhaniya in the northern countryside of Homs, narrates to Enab Baladi her daily suffering in meeting her daily needs of bread.
People in the cities of the northern countryside of Homs, such as Rastan and Talbiseh, and the villages of Houla, also suffer a lack of access to bread.
Nouri al-Najjar, a resident of al-Farhaniya village, attributed the bread crisis to the Syrian security’s refusal to give approval to private bakeries to start their work, arguing that these private bakeries used to cooperate with relief organizations during the opposition’s control.
Al-Najjar added, “The government is a major cause of the crisis. It is an obstacle to numerous private bakeries and prevents them from entering the bread production line.”
No security clearances
Even though all Syrian governorates, including the northern countryside of Homs, are experiencing a shortage of bread, and citizens have to wait in longs lines to get a batch of bread, security clearances are not given to private bakeries in order to operate. Moreover, the owners of these bakeries offered serious money to the security services, but all in vain.
Muhammad Nour (a pseudonym for security reasons), a private bakery owner in Talbiseh, told Enab Baladi, “After the reconciliation agreement was signed in May 2018, I started to renew the license for the bakery that I own, but the National Security Office refused to grant me a permit.”
Muhammad Nour moved in all possible ways to re-open his bakery. Muhammad Nour admits that he offered a bribe of 25 million Syrian Pounds (SYP- around 11,160 USD) to one of the heads of the security branches in Homs in order to get an approval. Still, he was unable to obtain approval from the National Security Office in Damascus.
“When the area was under the control of the opposition factions, several baking projects were implemented with relief organizations and the local council in the area. This was the main reason for not renewing the licenses of the private bakeries,” added the owner of the bakery.
He explained that more than 15 bakeries in the northern countryside of Homs suffer from this problem due to the previous cooperation with the opposition. Even the one of the “Red Crescent” division was prevented from operating for the same reason.
Bread crisis was compounded by destruction of bakeries
It has been more than two years since the so-called settlement agreement was signed between the armed opposition factions and the Syrian regime forces. Yet, the northern countryside of Homs is still suffering from low government services.
Since the Syrian regime retook control of the countryside of Homs, the bread crisis has become the constant talk of the people, amid a lack of real-world solutions.
The Syrian regime forces also deliberately destroyed physical infrastructure and public services, especially the bakeries in Rastan, during the armed conflict in the area, which used to provide the residents of the northern Homs countryside with bread.
The automatic government bakery in Rastan, the only one in the region, was bombed by the Syrian regime forces in 2012. Besides, the bakery has been looted and robbed many times since then.
Before the settlement agreement in the region, Ihsan Relief and Development, a service-oriented organization, regrouped the remaining production lines and transferred them to a new building, equipping the bakery of Rastan with a power generator, in addition to performing regular maintenance work for all parts of the bakery.
However, the Syrian government has prevented the private bakeries restored by civil-society associations and organizations from operating, amid the dilemma of restoring public bakeries.
Syrian regime monopolizes basic materials used in bread making
Despite the stifling crisis that Syrian is going through, the Syrian regime does not allow the private sector to enter the production line of primary materials used in making bread, such as importing fuel, operating large private bakeries, and importing flour or wheat.
The private sector companies intervene cautiously in the production lines of materials supply used in making bread. Import licenses were the sole preserve of a class of influential merchants close to the ruling family, such as restricting the import of sugar to the Trans-Orient for Marketing, which belongs to the close relative of the wife of the President of the Syrian regime, Tarif al-Akhras.
Long queues in front of government bakeries
Citizens have to wait for hours in front of the government bakeries to get bread.
On 15 September, the Director-General of the Syrian Bakeries Foundation, Ziad Hazza, pointed out that the reason for the severe overcrowding in front of the bakeries is due to the increased demand for bread and the high level of bread consumption recently, as reported by the state-owned Arabic daily newspapers, Tishreen.
Hazaa denied that there is a shortage of flour, saying, “The flour is available, and raw materials and supplies used in making bread such as flour, yeast, and fuel are all secured to meet needs of Syrian people.”
He added that consumers of “touristic” bread—bread fortified with milk and sugar, resumed buying the subsidized bread due to the high price of touristic bread, which forced the Syrian Bakeries Foundation to operate bakeries at maximum capacity and sometimes by power generators due to the constant power outages, which disrupted some bakeries and stopped others from working, as he put it.
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