Ordinary Syrians feel the pinch as sanctions bite


Troubles are driving up price of basic food and fuels, hitting business and home life in Syria

THE GENERATOR choir sings on and off throughout the day, usually during scheduled power cuts. Their songs are loudest, the beat most insistent, on the narrow side streets of the capital, Damascus.

Generators, their covers bright yellow and red, hail from Korea and China. They come in several sizes, the most popular being the small portable model favoured by shopkeepers.

Ammar Daadouch says a few weeks ago his firm, which has showrooms in six cities in Syria, “sold 100 pieces a day”. But now, due to the escalation of the troubles, this has fallen to 10. In some places the firm’s shops can only open for a few hours.

“Soon we we will have problems with payments from China and other countries. Due to sanctions we cannot trade in dollars. Soon the euro will be blocked. Sanctions are hitting businessmen and the people. Not the regime.”

Before the troubles there was little demand for generators in the country’s cities and towns, he observes. “We didn’t have power cuts.” Some generators consume diesel, others petrol. But like electricity, these precious fuels are in short supply. Long lines of cars form outside petrol pumps, while jerrycans in red, blue, green and orange plastic queue under the watchful eyes of boys paid a few pounds by owners who drop off containers and pick them up later filled with diesel

The price of diesel has increased 40 per cent recently. Due to the cold weather, families are consuming more for heating homes. Few can afford the luxury of generators to make up for electricity outages. Cooking gas is also in short supply and the price has risen more than 40 per cent.

Business is brisk at the Western Union branch at Youssef al-Azmeh square in the city centre. Although Syria’s banks cannot deal with international financial institutions – again, due to sanctions – Syrians can receive remittances from abroad through Western Union, which has many offices throughout the country.

Millions of Syrians rely on transfers from sons, husbands and other relatives living and working the world over. “Payments are made only in Syrian pounds,” remarks the young lady behind the highly polished wood counter. Two plain-clothes guards hover near the door to fend off daylight robbers.

Jewellery shops along this upmarket street have removed rich displays of gold from their windows. Shoe-shine lads who have staked out positions along the sidewalk clamour for custom. There are now six where one used to sit with his kit.

Damascus’s many pharmacies remain well stocked. Imported medicines are not on sanctions lists and continue to be available.

However, if government revenues plunge, importers will not have the foreign exchange to buy essential medications from foreign suppliers. However, if the country’s strategic reserve of such medications is exhausted, the International Committee of the Red Cross will step in to ensure Syrians are provided with what they need.

Syria, which manufactures pharmaceutical products, is self-sufficient in some medications but, again, could run out of cash to buy raw materials.

This is, of course, true for all types of manufacturing dependent on imported materials. Business could gradually grind to a halt.