Earthquake and Ramadan deepen needs of regime-areas
Enab Baladi – Hussam al-Mahmoud
The month of Ramadan came shortly after the catastrophe of the devastating earthquake that struck the Turkish state of Kahramanmaraş and northern Syria, but the holy month came with additional needs in light of the inability to cope with the pre-earthquake living conditions.
Factors that had a negative impact on various aspects of life, especially the livelihood that was affected by the aftershocks that affected prices in an economically fragile country before the earthquake that claimed thousands of lives in Syria.
Umm Imad, a housewife based in Latakia, pointed to a significant rise in prices after the earthquake occurred, which affected various commodities, particularly foodstuffs.
The woman explained that her husband’s monthly salary, in the normal situation before the earthquake, is not sufficient for the monthly rent of the house and that the only way for the family of five to survive is through money transfers from relatives residing outside Syria, as prices continue to rise, and wages do not cover the need, given that her employee husband earns about 150,000 Syrian pounds (less than $25).
On February 17, Abdul-Razzaq Khubza, Secretary of the Consumer Protection Association in Damascus and its countryside, confirmed that the local markets suffer from a shortage of the materials offered, despite the fact that they are available to the merchants in the warehouses.
Khubza revealed to the local Athr Press website that only 30 percent of the merchants adhere to the prices, that the supply control over the markets does not exceed 25 percent in total, and that the government of the regime contributes to raising prices by raising the prices of transport, freight, and food supplies.
The price hike was justified by the former Minister of Internal Trade and Consumer Protection, Amr Salem, on February 13, in an interview with Radio Arabesque, by the great demand for commodities and foodstuffs after the earthquake.
Despite the arrival of aid planes from “friendly” and other countries as part of the humanitarian response to the areas controlled by the regime, this aid did not achieve a positive impact or interference in the prices of commodities, which rose after the earthquake.
On the contrary, activists circulated videos on social media showing the theft and sale of aid to citizens.
Salem had indicated that the need is great, and the aid that arrives is being distributed within hours, and at the same time, he denied the existence of thefts of aid and linked the situation to the citizen receiving the food basket and selling it to buy something else.
High prices were accompanied by a different “economic fatwa” issued on February 14, by a member of the Board of Directors of the Damascus Chamber of Commerce, Mohammad al-Hallaq, to Radio al-Madina FM, in which he considered that the price hike is linked to an increase in the exchange rate of import financing, which rose to the limits of 7,200 pounds to 1 US dollar, after it was about 6,000 pounds before the earthquake, which contributed to the rise, in addition to the existence of a shortage of goods within the markets.
On February 2, the Central Bank of Syria (CBS) raised the exchange rate for remittances and exchange dollars to 6,650 Syrian pounds for $1 and the exchange rate for 1 Euro to 7,328 pounds, in line with the exchange rate against the pound on the black market.
According to a statement by the Central Bank, a new exchange rates bulletin was issued for “remittances and exchange,” which allowed banks and exchange companies to receive the values of incoming foreign transfers and to disburse cash amounts, according to an exchange rate close to the trading price (the price determined according to supply and demand in the informal exchange market).
Firas Shaabo, Ph.D. in banking and financial sciences, said that prices continue to rise steadily because of the earthquake.
Suspending work in some sectors for days has affected the production cycle and partially halted it, in addition to a significant increase in demand, which also led to higher prices.
In an interview with Enab Baladi, Shaabo pointed to the flow of money transfers to regime-controlled areas from Syrians residing abroad, which created a monetary block in those areas.
In addition to the tendency of some donors to purchase products and distribute them in large quantities, the demand for food commodities increased, which naturally reflected negatively on prices.
Shaabo attributed the difficult living conditions to the fragility of the economic situation in Syria, which makes the rise in prices a natural economic response, especially since this rise is cyclical and recurrent. What is different this time is that the earthquake affected it, but the situation already exists.
After disasters, it is normal for prices to rise, as there is a state of panic and fear, but in Syria, there is already a situation that is no different from before the earthquake.
Firas Shaabo, Ph.D. in Banking and Financial Sciences
Inevitable hike in Ramadan
On the state of prices with the advent of the month of Ramadan, Shaabo said the increase in prices is inevitable, coupled with increased demand and commercial monopoly and the lack of sufficient quantities of commodities in the markets.
This inevitable increase puts the citizen before reprioritization of essentials every period and having to dispense with some basics in light of the gradual removal of subsidies on commodities, which exhausted the residents trying to secure the minimum necessities for survival.
The regime-held areas are witnessing a gap between salaries and wages for workers and the requirements of life, with the inability to improve income and change the priorities and culture of consumption.
According to the International Labor Organization (ILO) classification for the year 2022, Syria ranks 18th out of 117 countries in the worker poverty rate index, and labor productivity in Syria is ranked 149th out of 185 countries, which indicates poor productivity.
As for the ratio of employment to population, Syria ranked 166th out of 190 countries, with a rate of 39.2%, which indicates labor migration.
On March 14, the United Nations World Food Program (WFP) said that the average monthly salary in Syria currently only covers about a quarter of a family’s food needs and that about 12.1 million people in Syria, more than half of the population, are food insecure.
A statement by the UN program stated that Syria is among the six countries with the highest rates of food insecurity in the world, and there are another 2.9 million people at risk of food insecurity.
The statement attributed this deterioration in food security to several reasons, including the country’s heavy dependence on food imports, the effects of the long conflict, in addition to the devastation caused by the earthquake in Syria and Turkey recently, which exacerbated humanitarian needs.
According to the organization, the latest data shows that malnutrition is on the rise, with rates of stunting among children and malnutrition among mothers reaching “unprecedented” levels.
In mid-2022, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the World Food Program (WFP) issued a report that placed Syria as one of the 20 hotspots of hunger in the world.
On February 6, a devastating earthquake struck southern Turkey, affecting four Syrian governorates, causing the death of 1,414 people in regime-controlled areas and 2,274 people in northwestern Syria.
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