Damascus: Economic impact of war

Minaret Umayyad Masjid Damascus

Damascus is about to forget the revolution, traces of the latter are completely erased, in the district of Midan, where first protests against Bashar al-Assad took place, citizens try to resume their daily activities, despite the fact that many restaurants and shops don’t fill as before. Before the revolt, finding a free table was a miracle, whereas now people are afraid to come to this area. Every Friday during the first weeks of the uprising, “hundreds, perhaps thousands of people defied the bullies in small neighbourhoods that were waiting under the bridge. After prayers, battles took place and young people were being held everywhere”, recalls an activist in the region that has personally experienced “unique days, even if right now everything is messed up between the regime and the Islamists”.

Today in Damascus, most do not want that government or an armed opposition.

The authorities are unable to forget the uprisings in Midan, and heads of control points give it thoroughly before giving way to vehicular traffic. Perfectly decorated with national flags and pictures of the President, this can only be seen in this part of Damascus with a predominantly Sunni Islam, current major religious group in the country.

Taxis counters chose a new measure that is the number of control points exceeded. A trip to Midan from the center can reach the sum of 300 pounds, whereas before, it rarely reached 50 pounds (€ 0,27).

The price of gasoline is ridiculously high, safety is totally absent and each stop at a checkpoint is likely to drag on, forming a convincing excuse for drivers to negotiate their prices, are several consequences of war on economy that stifles the people of Damascus, the main economic engine being on stand by since last summer.

Central Bank, despite intensifying its efforts, did not prevent collapse of the local currency: the Euro is changed to 185 pounds while in March 2012, it did not reach 70.

“Life has become impossible with such increases and wages that poor… The economy is in the process of achieving what the opposition has not reached with weapons: destroy people. They are exhausted”, says one official who receives a salary of £ 15,000 (81 euros to current exchange rates. 215 euros in March 2012). The regime continues to pay the salaries of its more than two million employees across the country at due time, and monthly allowances increased by 20%, but no further increases in sight.

Inflation has virtually exploded the price list, and citizens are struggling to reach the end of the month

Gasoline currently costs £ 90 per litre (0.48 euros), although it is much less expensive in Lebanon, prompting taxi drivers and carriers to cross the border just to fill their tanks. Finding gas for domestic use is almost a miracle. Official price of bottled gas increased from 225 pounds (1.20 euros) to 1200 (6.50 euros).

Poultry, preserved foods and milk powder (now imported from the United Arab Emirates) have become luxuries for the average citizen.

Amid this bleak landscape, one of the only positive news is the disappearance of queues in front of bakeries in the capital following an agreement with Iran to import flour. The Islamic Republic has decided to send 800 tonnes per day for the citizens of the capital to have their daily bread. The government maintains a subsidy to certain foods such as rice, sugar and bread, which maintains a stable price of 15 pounds for a kilo and a half bag. The complaint now is that it is of inferior quality, because bread is slightly thicker and with a different taste, although no one is missing it.

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