On the corner next to a public bakery located in the centre of the Syrian capital, Damascus, three siblings stand holding bags of bread, trying to sell them to passers-by. “Fresh bread, fresh bread”, they say with soft voices and hurry when someone or some car slows down near them. This is the sign of a potential buyer.
“We have been doing this for almost five years,” says Alaa who is 18 years old and the oldest. “Since we lost our father and house in the city suburbs due to a bomb, we are forced to work and selling bread is fine.”
In the early morning, Alaa, Sara and Abdullah wait in the queue at the bakery. Every hour they buy between ten and fifteen bread bundles, for 50 SYP each. They then go to the street and sell them at double the price they paid to those who do not have enough time to wait in line. “This way we can make around 3000 SYP (around 5 USD) each day,” explains Abdullah, who is 10 years old, signs of fatigue showing clearly on his face.
This money, however, is not enough to cover the family expenditure. They need to pay rent for the house, which is around 100 USD a month and also secure their other daily needs. The two elder brothers also work but this still means that Sara and Abdullah are not able to go to school, as they need to work on a daily basis. “If we don’t work, we don’t eat,” says 13-year old Sara.
Despite their youth, the three siblings are aware of the situation in their war-torn country. They might not know that when the war started in 2011, the US dollar was equal to around 50 SYP, while its value now is ten times lower but they explain the hard economic situation they are experiencing in their own words. “The past few months are harder than ever”, says Alaa. Her sister and brother cannot agree more. “We don’t know what has changed exactly but even the few times we were able to get good food at home are becoming rarer month after month.”
Dropping Currency Value, Higher Prices
Since the beginning of the war in Syria, the Syrian pound, also known as “Lira”, has gradually fallen in value. The recent months, however, have witnessed a speedy deterioration and the Lira has dropped from around 475 SYP a dollar in January to more than 600 SYP in the past few weeks.
May and June saw a very rapid decline when the exchange rate reached 610 pounds a dollar, a very low level that the country had not witnessed before. Many reasons underlie such a collapse, as official statements indicate.
Firstly, the Western sanctions that the US and European countries are imposing on Syria are having a huge effect on the economy. Due to these sanctions, especially on the oil sector, the Syrian government has allowed private enterprises to import fuel at their own expense, as opposed to the government, thus avoiding the worst effects of the ban. However, the cost of fuel has become more expensive and the demand for foreign exchange has increased in order for private firms to secure the related necessary funding.
Another reason is linked to the situation in Idlib, the last opposition-held area in Syria. The northern province has been under fire for more than two months, and the violent battles there are causing unrest and affect the economy in the whole country.
As a result, Syrians are going through a very difficult economic period that is affecting all aspects of their life. Prices of some items, especially food products, are skyrocketing. Living conditions are worsening and many families are unable to live normally. They are eliminating many items from their daily menus, trying to get along on just the basics.
No Clients. Shops are Empty
In a food market at the centre of Barzeh neighbourhood to the east of Damascus, Hisham, who owns a grocery store, sits on a chair at the corner of his shop and cannot stop complaining about the poor, sometimes zero, sales.
“Nobody wants to buy bulgur, spaghetti or even rice to cook. Each day customers come and ask me about prices that are rising continuously but most of them do not buy. They prefer to wait, maybe things will change”, the 50-year-old says.
Hisham thinks that sales in the past few months are the worst in the past eight years. He considers this a normal situation, since the unemployment rate is higher than ever and most families have lost their source of income and also have spent almost all of their savings.
Next to his shop, a woman enters a chicken store. She looks baffled, trying to see what she can buy with the small amount of money she has, no more than 1500 Lira (3 dollars). After hesitating for some minutes, she asked for two small wings.
The vendor is not surprised. He says that such requests for limited quantities of food are becoming more common now in Syria. “If you cannot buy a whole chicken then why not get only a piece?,” he says. He feels sorry that this was not known at all before the war, “but economic hardships are overwhelming.”
Even the second-hand clothing stores, that are mainly dedicated to selling at very discounted prices, are running low on sales. Firas, who works in one of these stores, says that they spend hours and hours without selling a single piece. “We see no light on the horizon.” he says. We need real solutions as life is getting tougher every day,” he adds wistfully.