15 August 2008

Food shortages (Updated) [AGAIN]

** Update: Now in the Mail & Guardian :) ** http://tinyurl.com/6xmkls

Prices in Syria have been skyrocketing over the past year. I am here to study Arabic, like many others from all over the world, and I was told that this influx of foreign students may be responsible for the pushing up demand and hence prices. However, that argument has not convinced most. Just a week before I arrived, the cost of transport increased overnight by 100%, from SYL5 to SYL10. By transport, that means buses and the ‘service’ mini-buses (pronounced sir-vees).

Abu Ahmed is owner of Mu’ajaanaat Al-noor in Ruknudeen, the suburb on the foot of a mountain in Damascus. In his 40’s, he has his young son helping out now in his school holidays, and daily after school during the term. His bakery is a typical Damascene style bakery take-away, making and selling pizza-like bread in a clay oven. Customers usually bring their own toppings like cheese, tomato and the delicious local spice- Zattar.

Abu Ahmed complains about the price increase. The price of cheese increased from SYL150 per kg to SYL250 per kg in the past year. 50 kilograms of flour was SYL900 and is now gone up for SYL1400!

100 litres of diesel was SYL8,000 and is now gone up to a whopping SYL26,000.

A ration is available from government outlets at 8000 SYL, but only to households. Each household has a limit. He uses most of his household limit for his shop, and hence has little left for personal use. He is willing to buy a ration card from someone who is willing to sell theirs...

Down the road Abu Maajid runs a small supermarket, selling basic groceries, cool drinks, snacks and other odds and ends. He used to sell Egyptian rice (Zarzour) for SYL30 per kg and claims that the price has increased steadily to SYL90 per kg. ‘But not for long, it will go up again soon. I just know it!’ He used to sell 100kg of rice a week and now he sells anything around 5 to 10 kg a week.

Many people have stopped eating rice and now eat local wheat known as ‘Burghur’. Even this has gone up from SYL20 to SYL50 per kg so sales have only marginally increased. ‘One customer is my friend- he told me he is now eating just tomato and bread! Things are really bad and people are suffering’, says Abu Maajid in broken English.

Canisters of gas used to sell for SYL175 when the cost price was SYL150. Now the government outlet is selling it for SYL275, the man who transports it adds on SYL25 and it’s sold for SYL325 with a SYL25 SYL mark-up. ‘Petrol is the problem’, he says. But he has no idea why the petrol price has gone up or who is to blame. There is no time to worry about that and there is nothing one can do but just try to work harder.

In some shops the employees make more than the owners. But jobs are not easy to find- his four married sons are all struggling to get proper jobs. The supermarket used to give him SYL10 SYL profit for every SYL100 of sales- this has now dropped to 5%, and with the drop in sales, it is really tough to make ends meet. He has not paid the last 4 electricity bills and his phone has been cut because he couldn’t pay the bill. He forces me to take the phone and listen- the line is dead and I’m greeted only by silence.

SYL- Syrian Lira
ZAR- South African Rand
Effective exchange rate: ZAR1 = SYL6.5


This was written as part of a global project to raise awareness on how the food shortages are causing strife across the globe. For the full article, please visit: http://www.pambazuka.org/en/category/comment/49918

Food shortages: stories of strife across the globe


bb_aisha said...

Last year prices in Jordan rocketed too. If Syria is anything like Egypt, it means many people earn just enough to survive, and inflation forces them to live below the breadline.

It's a tough situation worldwide & if experts are correct, the period of 'cheap' food & fuel is over.
But I cannot accept that there is no real solution-besides encouraging sustenance farming on a small level etc

World leaders who have led us to this are to blame, and should be held accountable. I don't think it's ever been so bad where despite immense progression on all levels, the number of people living on less than a dollar a day continues to increase, while greedy capitalists grow richer

freelance hero said...

thanks for taking part. your input was crucial & much appreciated :) keep on doing your thing!

bb_aisha said...

here's an article i came across on newinternationalist.org


Mariam said...

Rememember discussing syria's living standards with another sa'n when we visited. one of the many pulls to syria is that its so far-removed from life here. if u'r there for a short while theres a kind of charm to rows n rows of dilapidated buildings and poor infrastructure...but poor living standards isn't islamic is it? its great if people are content..but economic progress can be good too rite? granted too much can result in excess and extravagance etc(dubai?) n loss of culture and history. often wonder where that balance is...is Islamic spain the aspiration?