Syria to face acute bread shortage as nation reels from US sanctions
DUBAI/BEIRUT (UAE/LEBANON) – In what is seen as yet another challenge for Syrian president Bashar al-Assad, who is grappling with renewed US sanctions and economic meltdown, the country could face severe shortage of bread for the first time since the beginning of the civil war.
With rampant inflation leading to spiralling food prices, disruptions to the bread subsidy system could threaten the population which is totally dependent on wheat and undermine the government.
According to Mike Robson, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization’s Syria representative, “There is already some evidence of people cutting out meals.”said .
“…If the currency continues under pressure, imports will be difficult to obtain and the months leading up to the 2021 wheat harvest may see real shortages.”
With the civil war moving into its tenth year, Syria’s economy is collapsing and the financial crisis in neighbouring Lebanon is stifling the vital source of dollars.
The war, which has killed thousands and displaced millions, has led to soaring prices, making life tougher for the Syrian population.
According to World Food Programme figures, over the past six months, the number of “food insecure” people in the country is estimated to have risen from 7.9 million to 9.3 million, .
“My 50,000 pound (monthly) salary ($21 on the informal market) (£16.59) is barely enough for a few days and I am living on debt. People are selling their furniture… In our lives this has never happened,” said Yara, a government servant.
In June, the US imposed its toughest sanctions ever on Syria. It said the Caesar Act excludes humanitarian help and aims to hold Assad and his government accountable for war crimes.
On the other hand, the Syrian authorities blame western sanctions for the travails faced by the population.
After holding steady at 500 to the US dollar for many years, the Syrian pound went into free fall last year, hitting a low of 3,000 in June.
This drop in currency value has thrown a spanner in the works of Assad’s plan to buy up wheat to compensate for a shortfall in imports.
Before the war, Syria had more than a year of wheat reserves.
While the president has regained control of much of the country with the support of Russia and Iran, the main wheat producing areas still remain under the control of Kurdish-led fighters who seized vast swathes of land from the Islamic State.
The conflict has seriously affected Syria’s wheat output. Earlier, it used to produce 4 million tonnes a year and was able to export 1.5 million tonnes.
According to the FAO, this year, Syria is estimated to have produced between 2.1 million and 2.4 million tonnes.
But the demand from across the country is around 4 million tonnes, and that has to be met by imports.
To make matters worse, the international import tenders by the state’s main grain buyer, Hoboob, have repeatedly failed since last year.
Although sanctions do not target food, curbs on banking and asset freezing make it difficult for trading entities to conduct business with Syria.
“They import quantities to Lebanon and then take it to Syria by land unless it is Russia giving direct shipments, government to government, then they can deliver to (the port of) Latakia,” said Ayman Abdel Nour, a US-based political analyst.
(Photos syndicated via Reuters)
This story has been edited by BH staff and is published from a syndicated field