A recent Syrian government order that limits the amount of subsidised bread available per person at bakeries has been implemented, putting larger families at risk of starvation as the country’s crippling economic crisis deepens.
Under the new rule a household of two is entitled to just one packet of bread a day; a family of four two packets; and a family of six to three packets.
Families of seven or more people, however, are limited to four packets of bread, no matter how many are in the house.
Damascus introduced an electronic “smartcard” system earlier this year that must be used to purchase bread at state-run bakeries.
But in order to buy more, families must turn to the black market, where prices run at 500 Syrian pounds per packet, compared with 100 pounds for the government-subsidised bread.
Since the value of the Syrian pound began nosediving last year, Abu Yasser, a civil servant, has been forced to spend his evenings working at an electronics repair shop in order to support his wife and five children.
“I have to wake up every day at 3am and go to the bakery and wait three hours in line so I can buy bread, then go home and get dressed and go to work, but four pieces of bread is nowhere near enough to feed my children,” he said.
“Our solution so far is to eat fewer meals and try to use rice or bulgar wheat if we can find it. I can only afford to buy black market bread once a week.”
President Bashar al-Assad is now back in control of most of the country, but the regime has not been able to focus on rebuilding a nation it bombed into ruins while stamping out rebel forces and extremist groups.
Instead, he is grappling with a collapsed currency, soaring inflation, and a covered-up coronavirus outbreak, all of which are all taking a devastating toll on people living in government-held areas.
The financial crisis in neighbouring Lebanon, as well as coronavirus restrictions and new US sanctions, have all contributed to Syria’s current economic instability, making the price of bread a grim new measure of the country’s financial troubles.
Ninety per cent of Syrians in parts of the country controlled by the regime are living below the poverty line, and unemployment has reached 80%, according to UN estimates.
Basics such as flour, sugar, rice, cooking gas, fuel and medicine are increasingly hard to find on shop shelves. What is left is subject to price gouging, often by profiteers with ties to the regime.
According to the World Food Programme, 9.3 million Syrians are now food-insecure – an increase of 1.4 million in the last six months alone, and the highest number ever recorded.
Osama Kadi, a Canada-based Syrian economist, said: “The situation in Syria economically is at its worst point since the First World War, and it is still going from bad to worse without any real political solution. Syria is soon going to be facing widespread hunger.”
Bread is a complex commodity in Syria, where wheat production has fallen from 4.1m tons before the 2011 revolution to 2.2m in 2019. Today, the majority of the country’s wheat fields are still under the control of separatist Kurds.
Throughout the war, Damascus has relied on its allies in Moscow for emergency or charitable shipments. Currently, the regime does not have enough foreign currency reserves to buy in more supplies.
Russia is also withholding wheat shipments in order to pressure the government into engaging with a UN-backed peace process aiming to draw up a new constitution. (Source: The Guardian)