Syria food crisis deepens as bread prices double

Ten years of conflict and sanctions have depleted government finances

Bread and diesel prices increased sharply in government-held parts of Syria on Sunday, bringing more pain for civilians in a long-running economic crisis.

Damascus has repeatedly raised fuel prices in recent years to tackle financial problems sparked by the country's decade-long civil war and compounded by sanctions imposed by western countries.

The price of diesel nearly tripled and the price of bread doubled on Sunday, the official Sana news agency reported, only days after Damascus announced a 25 per cent increase in the price of petrol.

"This was all expected and now we fear further increases in the price of food and medicine," Damascus resident Wael Hammoud, 41, told AFP.

The provision of basic services and staple goods in Syria has been battered by the civil war, which began in 2011 with government repression of protests.

Turkey has sought to plug the gap in rebel-held north-western Syria, building flour mills and supplying power. But it has done so alongside a para state of militant groups it trained and funded.

The latest price hikes coincided with a decree issued by President Bashar Al Assad on Sunday that increased public sector salaries by 50 per cent and sets the minimum wage at 71,515 Syrian pounds a month ($28 at the official rate), up from 47,000 pounds.

In a second decree, Mr Assad raised public sector and military pensions by 40 per cent, Sana reported.

A price list published by the state news agency on Saturday night showed one litre of diesel would now cost 500 pounds, up from 180 pounds, which users in most sectors paid previously.

Mustafa Haswiya, of the state-run Syrian Company for the Storage and Distribution of Petroleum Products, said 80 per cent of the country's hydrocarbon needs were purchased from abroad using foreign currency.

"It was necessary to raise prices in order to reduce the import bill," Sana quoted him as saying.

The price of subsidised bread doubled to 200 pounds. The state-run Syrian Foundation for Bakeries said the rising price of diesel contributed to the increase, Sana reported.

Diesel in Syria is used to power vehicles and private generators that run for up to 20 hours a day in some areas to supplement an ailing power grid hampered by fuel shortages.

On Sunday, pro-government newspaper Al Watan reported that the increase in the price of diesel would lead to "an increase in the price of transportation within and across provinces" by more than 26 per cent.

Production costs will also rise in the agriculture and industrial sectors, it reported.

The cost of heating homes will also climb by 178 per cent, Al Watan said.

An economist in Damascus said that the government would continue to raise prices as the crisis deepened.

"As long as there is no money entering the treasury, the price increases will continue," he said.

The latest price hikes come nearly two weeks after the government in Lebanon raised fuel prices by more than 35 per cent to tackle shortages that authorities in the country blame in part on smuggling to Syria.

Updated: July 11th 2021, 1:20 PM