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Tuesday 20th March 2018

Bicycles and the Syrian Petrol Crisis

Media & Culture

Marah Sharba - 7Dnews Damascus

Wed, 01 May 2019 22:35 GMT

The whole of Syria is now suffering from a serious petrol shortage.

The scene is something like this: extremely long lines of cars snake along the main streets waiting to refill their tanks, most having to spend around 24 hours or more to receive enough fuel for one day. There are special fuel stations for public transport vehicles, which means that taxis are allowed to receive 20 litres for 24 hours because of the huge pressure they are put under if they have to come back to wait for another 20 litres. For them this would mean one day of waiting is needed for one day of work.

Many professions that require the use of petrol have come to a halt, too. People feel stressed, with transport services interrupted due to the crisis. Taxi fares are expensive, and many buses are out of service. Anxious crowds fill the streets to catch any form of transportation to get them to their desired destination.

Crisis management

Despite all this, both the Syrian sense of humour and their ability to overcome crises remain strong. And as an answer to the large number of waiting people to catch public transport, car drivers now stop and offer them a lift. This is a strong indicator for the state of Syrian crisis management as well as for the unity of the Syrian people.

An initiative has also sprung up concerning the cars waiting for fuel. A group of volunteers in Damascus provides food, drinks and covers for the drivers queueing near the petrol stations. In doing so they show support for the patient citizens and demonstrate that someone is there for them. With this simple gesture they bring a smile to many faces that would otherwise be bad-tempered and make them happy.

Finding a ray of light and a solution to every crisis lies in the Syrian nature, which also makes people look on the bright side of each difficulty. This is how the "Let's bike" initiative that took place on April 18th came about. Based in Latakia, it is scheme which invites people to join a communal bike ride in order to encourage others to make more use of their bicycles. On its first day, around 35 people, among them university students, employees and instructors, responded to an invitation and gathered to bike together along a track of 20 kilometres around Latakia. Another group of Al-Sham private university students joined them on their bicycles in support.

Reem Harfoush, the founder and leader of the initiative, is a lecturer in the faculty of medicine in Latakia and Tartous. She explains: "Our message is that Syrian people are able to enjoy their lives and be effective even though we have a petrol crisis."

She adds, “On our way we passed a 3 kilometre long queue of cars waiting for petrol, the drivers were happy to see us riding bicycles and they waved at us and they commented by saying, ‘That is the best solution without petrol.’"

The Syrian media generally showed great interest in the initiative and considered it a positive step to counter the crisis. However, some people commented negatively on social media, suggesting that the participants were just showing off, or that this solution was not perfect.

In a different response to the petrol shortage, in Damascus another group of people have taken to riding horses to get around. Facing the crisis with this sense of humour has prompted a lot of funny and encouraging comments on social media.

Some say that the Syrian petrol crisis is in decline. However, the response of Syria’s people in various cities clearly shows that they can handle adverse situations with humour and wisdom at the same time. The food initiative is a way of sharing and connecting more, while the bicycle initiative is an attempt to solve the crisis itself.

Middle East