Specter of famine looms over Syrians in Ramadan

Sarouja neighborhood in central Damascus - February 3, 2024 (Enab Baladi/Sarah al-Ahmad)

Sarouja neighborhood in central Damascus - February 3, 2024 (Enab Baladi/Sarah al-Ahmad)


Hassan Ibrahim | Jana al-Issa

As Syrian citizens wait for a breakthrough from the crises that haunt them, the burdens of life grow heavier, living a reality under the pressure of securing the necessities of survival, carrying the grief in their heart of days when what preoccupied their mind was a morsel to stave off hunger.

Ramadan 2024 comes to a Syrian reality exhausted by poverty and need, where the minimum wage across the areas of control in Syria necessitates searching for additional sources of income, either through obtaining a second job or relying on financial remittances from outside Syria, something that is not available to everyone.

The rise in prices has been part of people’s suffering during Ramadan, alongside a shortage of basic life necessities related to fuel, gas, electricity, and more. Despite the differences in wages, salaries, realities of residents, and the currency in circulation between areas of control, famine has become an actual reality.

A dangerous situation

In Syria, 16.7 million people need humanitarian aid, an increase of 9% over the year 2023, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

The Commission mentioned that the year 2024 indicates that the humanitarian and economic indicators in the country continue to deteriorate, and that the economic situation is “increasingly dire,” creating a major driver for needs.

80% of Syrian citizens need some form of humanitarian assistance in 2024, according to an overview of the humanitarian need for the year 2024 (HNO).

About 55% of the population in Syria, or 12.9 million people, suffer from food insecurity, including 3.1 million who severely suffer from food insecurity.

Sarouja neighborhood in central Damascus - February 3, 2024 (Enab Baladi/Sarah al-Ahmad)

Sarouja neighborhood in central Damascus – February 3, 2024 (Enab Baladi/Sarah al-Ahmad)

Currency deterioration worries Syrians

The value of currencies circulating in Syria against foreign currencies is an additional cause of the decline in citizens’ purchasing power. A drop in currency value is accompanied by a significant rise in prices, while prices do not decrease when the currency value rises or even when it stabilizes.

The depreciation of the Syrian pound by 113.5% during one year (2023) has clearly affected the livelihood of residents in Syria in areas where the pound is the main currency, with almost daily price hikes affecting all essential goods and materials.

The selling price of the US dollar against the Syrian pound is 14,000 pounds and its buying price is 13,850 pounds, according to the S-P Today website.

The value of the Turkish lira, which is relied upon in northwest Syria for market transactions, has also been affected, which has impacted the standard of living for citizens. The exchange rate of the dollar against it has reached 32.1 lira per dollar, and the euro exchange rate has reached 35.2 Turkish lira.

4.5 million Syrian pounds for Ramadan’s iftar

Before the current Ramadan, academic estimates indicated that the cost of an iftar meal for five people would be at least 150,000 Syrian pounds (in regions under Syrian regime control).

Over a full month, the cost of iftar over 30 days would reach about four and a half million pounds, a figure utterly disproportionate to the value of wages and pensions.

The minimum government salary in areas under Syrian regime control is 287,000 Syrian pounds ($20.5), with government salaries in areas under the Syrian Salvation Government’s control in Idlib ranging between $80 and $110.

The minimum salary in the northeastern regions of Syria, where the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (AANES) holds sway, is one million Syrian pounds ($71.5), and the minimum salary of employees in areas under the Syrian Interim Government’s control in the northern and eastern countrysides of Aleppo, Tal Abyad, and Ras al-Ain, ranges from $35 to $59.

Sarouja neighborhood in central Damascus - February 3, 2024 (Enab Baladi/Sarah al-Ahmad)

Sarouja neighborhood in central Damascus – February 3, 2024 (Enab Baladi/Sarah al-Ahmad)

Remittances save people, Money controls type and quantity

A week before the start of Ramadan, Rashid al-Masalmah (49 years old) and his wife began buying groceries, meats, and unprepared drinks (licorice and tamarind) in preparation for Ramadan, where they reside in al-Sabil neighborhood in Daraa al-Mahatta, southern Syria, in addition to buying two broilers for his widowed sister, who lives with her two children in Daraa al-Balad.

Al-Masalmah, an employee at the Daraa Post Directorate, told Enab Baladi that his salary reaches about 350,000 Syrian pounds and is not sufficient to buy goods that last two days for his family of five, but his brother in Kuwait, who is a building engineer, sends a monthly amount to him and to his sister. He pointed out that the amount before Ramadan is doubled, reaching 12 million pounds for each, and is enough for the family throughout the month of Ramadan.

Al-Masalmah mentioned that it is customary in Daraa to give amounts to “al-Anaya,” which is related to kinship ties such as a sister, aunt, maternal aunt, and daughters of a brother and sister, saying that it is a man’s duty to fulfill the needs of his kinship relations, especially in difficult economic conditions, by giving money, buying needs, or at least hosting a dinner.

Meanwhile, Maya (a pseudonym), a 38-year-old homemaker whose husband works as a director at a private bank branch in Latakia city, said she began preparing for Ramadan a week before its start.

She mentioned that she purchased two types of dates in quantities that would roughly last half the month while accounting for guests, and wants to replenish the four kilograms she bought for 425,000 pounds before they run out.

She added that she bought dried figs and some types of unroasted nuts, to be present at breakfast and Suhoor tables, and paid approximately 740,000 pounds for three kilograms of the two items.

The homemaker’s preparations included buying canned goods such as halva, jams, cheese, and Qamar al-Din in addition to tamarind for making juices, as well as pantry items like ghee and vegetable oils. She mentioned that her grocery bill was about 600,000 pounds.

Regarding meats and chicken, the lady said she buys them “fresh daily,” as well as vegetables and fruits, because she does not trust their shelf life despite owning a solar power network. As for pastries and sambousek, she usually buys them from one of the commercial kitchens in the city.

The lady living in the al-Ziraa district in Latakia city, with a family of five (husband and three children, the oldest being 14), said that the costs are catastrophic, and despite all the supplies she bought, she reduced the quantities. Previously, she used to buy double these amounts to distribute them to neighbors, but this year she could not undertake the task.

Faiza al-Said (38 years old), who works for one of the Autonomous Administration institutions in Qamishli city, said that she managed her needs for Ramadan 2023 with a salary of 850,000 Syrian pounds, but the situation is worse this year despite her salary reaching 1.4 million pounds.

She explained to Enab Baladi that she and her husband decided four months ago to use the accumulation method (a Ramadan stash), and saved some money when her brother, who lives in Norway, visited her and gave her a sum of money.

Waiting for relief basket

Mohammed al-Hussein, a 50-year-old resident of the Kuwaiti camp in northern Idlib, is prevented by his deteriorating financial situation from buying preparations for Ramadan. His family consists of eight members, and he lacks employment opportunities due to the scarcity of jobs and his older age. The family’s sole income source is his son’s work in construction, earning a daily wage of up to 50 Turkish liras.

Al-Hussein hopes to receive an aid basket and, although he knows it will not be enough for more than a week, it supports his family. He points out that he received a food basket a month and a half ago.

On the other hand, Bayan al-Sayer, a 46-year-old resident of the al-Qusour neighborhood in Deir Ezzor, controlled by the Syrian regime, told Enab Baladi that she did not prepare food items for Ramadan, noting that in previous years she was able to secure the month’s needs before it began.

Al-Sayer, a mother of seven and an employee at the Directorate of Agriculture, receives a food basket from the Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC) every three months, which somewhat covers their needs.

Aboud al-Turki, a 45-year-old resident of the city of Hajin in the eastern countryside of Deir Ezzor, said that purchasing sufficient supplies has become difficult for his family of 15 because he works in agriculture, and the prices of most goods are high.

He explained that his family needs a daily expenditure of more than 200,000 Syrian pounds, and that meat is absent from their dining table. They wait for support from organizations if food basket distribution — which has become almost nonexistent — is provided.

Suhair, a 42-year-old government employee and mother of three children, the eldest being 11 years old, along with her government employee husband, has been unable to buy the items they are accustomed to purchasing in preparation for the holy month.

The lady living in al-Salibeh neighborhood in Latakia said her purchases were limited to one kilogram of dates costing 30,000 Syrian pounds from the type sold on stalls because of its essential presence on the Iftar table. She was also unable to buy tamarind for making juices, so she plans to substitute it with more affordable oranges and prepare the juices daily.

For the third consecutive year, dried fruits and nuts are absent from Suhair’s home. Also, she does not believe she can prepare a daily iftar meal with meat, chicken, or fish as is the usual custom. At best, there may be a meal with vegetables, legumes, or lentil soup with a potato dish.

The woman confirmed that 80% of her neighbors are in a similar situation and that the majority are waiting for food rations and meats provided by charitable people for fasting individuals during Ramadan, as is the custom.

Regarding Suhoor, she used to stock up on cheeses, dairy products, and jams, in addition to dates, which typically form the basis of the Suhoor table. However, this year, she said they could only afford one type of these products in small quantities, such as an ounce of labneh, three eggs, or some olives if available.

She indicated she does not have the financial ability to prepare the usual Ramadan necessities as her husband, a government employee, earns a salary that does not exceed 350,000 Syrian pounds, and so does she. Additionally, she does not have a relative living abroad to assist her with money transfers. She concluded her remarks with optimism that Ramadan is a month of goodness and blessings, and its sustenance comes with it.

As for Anas, a 35-year-old government employee living with his wife and two daughters in the countryside of Jableh, who owns agricultural land where he grows tobacco, he said he cannot remember the last time he was able to prepare for the month of Ramadan. He added that previous preparations included meat, raisins, dates, jams, and dairy and cheese derivatives.

This year, however, he has not bought anything yet and does not believe he can afford to buy any special Ramadan supplies, let alone the daily essentials like vegetables and legumes.

Anas added that living conditions this year are worse than before, recalling last year when red meat did not enter his home during Ramadan. While he bought chicken five or seven times, this year he can barely afford a chicken to make a dish.



النسخة العربية من المقال

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