October 5, 2012
Syrian concierge Jameel Abdul-Razzak says he can no longer afford to buy cucumbers, tomatoes and lettuce for the daily salad his family is used to.
The price of some vegetables in Damascus has jumped fivefold since the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad began in March last year, according to official figures. Busing workers to the fields and transporting the produce to market has become risky and expensive. For people like Abdul-Razzak, who said in a phone interview he makes about $200 a month, that means changing spending habits.
Syrians across the country are being squeezed by inflation, as the violence makes food and other staples harder to obtain. Sanctions on oil sales have hurt Syria’s ability to earn foreign currency that can be used to buy imports. Gross domestic product is set to shrink 10.2 percent this year, according to the Economist Intelligence Unit, as growing numbers of people see their lifestyles pared to subsistence levels.
“This is a survival economy now,” said Ibrahim Saif, an economist who is a resident scholar at the Carnegie Middle East Center in Beirut. “You give up on many things during times of crisis, you stop going to restaurants, you stop lending money.”
Agriculture Minister Subhi al-Abdullah urged Syrians to “plant whatever they can plant and raise whatever animals and poultry they can raise,” state-run newspaper Al-Thawra reported Sept. 24. He said Syria is “in a state of war and we should all pool our resources.”
The economy alone probably won’t bring down the Assad government, said Ayesha Sabavala, an economist at the EIU.
“They’ve managed to go along with low foreign exchange reserves by reducing their imports and by getting only essential imports,” she said in a phone interview.
The EIU estimates that Syria’s currency reserves will shrink to $3 billion, equivalent to 4.2 months of imports, by the end of next year, from $19.5 billion at the end of 2010. The country is getting financial support from allies Russia and Iran, Sabavala said.
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