Trading continues in Syria despite conflict

Economy has shrunk by an estimated 35-40 per cent

An employee counts Syrian pound notes at the Syrian central bank in Damascus. The Syrian pound has lost about 60 per cent of its value against the US dollar in two years. Photograph: Reuters/Khaled al-Hariri

An employee counts Syrian pound notes at the Syrian central bank in Damascus. The Syrian pound has lost about 60 per cent of its value against the US dollar in two years. Photograph: Reuters/Khaled al-Hariri

Sat, May 18, 2013, 01:00

Syria is at war but Damascus continues to function. Fruit and vegetables arrive from the countryside every day at the main wholesale market.

There is no shortage of petrol or diesel. Civil servants draw their salaries as usual from automatic teller machines, although foreign visitors cannot use credit cards and have to bring cash due to sanctions on Syrian banks.

Electricity is constant and telephone and internet connections are working most of the time. Two internet disruptions over the past two weeks, caused by damaged cables, inconvenienced Damascenes .

Before the conflict, the Syrian pound traded at 50 to the dollar. Since last August, the pound fell from 68 to 140 to the dollar because the central bank stopped propping up the value of the local currency. Consequently prices have risen sharply.

Fish, chicken, and meat are available but costly for Syrians. Bread, the staff of life, remains cheap at government bakeries. Restaurants are functioning in central Damascus and Jaramana, an eastern suburb.


Looted drugs
Medicines are in short supply because Syria’s pharmaceutical plants, which once provided 85 per cent of consumption, have been destroyed or looted and the equipment taken to Turkey.

It is estimated the economy has shrunk 35-40 per cent and will continue to shrink if the conflict is not brought to an end.

Last month’s EU decision to lift a ban on the export of oil from rebel-held eastern fields is unlikely to boost revenues to the opposition any time soon. Syria’s main export terminal is at Banias, which is firmly under government control.

There is no law and order in the oil-producing areas. Rival tribesmen and armed factions are skirmishing over the oil. Economic consultant Nabil Sukkar told The Irish Times the infrastructure in the fields has been damaged or destroyed and equipment stolen. “The state of the fields is not known and needs to be assessed by technically qualified experts. Pumping without supervision can damage the fields,” he stated.