February 7, 2023

A week ago, Ziyad al-Ezz stopped attending his university. Transport, even if it is provided, has become expensive due to a resurgent and worsening fuel shortage in Syria, where residents are looking for alternative ways to heat, and shopkeepers and bakeries are forced to close.

“Our suffering with fuel starts at home and does not end at the university,” Ziyad, 20, an art student at Damascus University, told AFP.

He added: “Without diesel fuel for heating, the house is very cold, and it is no longer so easy to find a vehicle outside.”

As a result of the bloody conflict that has been ongoing since 2011 and its aftermath of a chronic economic collapse, Syria is experiencing a semi-permanent fuel shortage crisis that is getting worse each time and depriving Syrians of the ability to heat their homes during the winter or to move to work and even to universities, as well as disables communication centers and institutions.

Ziad has become unable to afford private taxis, which periodically increase their costs due to dependence on black market fuel. As for public transport buses, they are very few and often overcrowded.

He says: “All the money that my father gives me, I spend on transport. That’s why I stopped going to university.”

The young man fears that the situation will worsen with the intensification of winter cold, which each time pushes the Syrians to look for alternative fuel options to heat their homes. Sometimes they use firewood, and sometimes they use pistachio husks and the remains of pressed olives.

Due to the lack of diesel this year, the family abandoned the heater.

“My mom told us that when it gets really cold, we have to make do with winter blankets,” says a young man who works in a bike delivery service after school hours.

“Now everyone is busy looking for a way to keep their children warm,” he added.

He asks: “How can I think about university and study in such difficult conditions?”

The recent fuel crisis prompted the authorities to raise fuel prices for the fourth time this year and to adopt tighter austerity policies in the distribution of diesel and gasoline to vehicles.

He was also forced to suspend government offices for an extra day a week, and universities to close their doors for another two days due to lack of transport fuel, as well as to extend the holidays at the end of the year by five days.

About two weeks ago, a number of centers of the Syrian Telecommunications Company temporarily did not work due to problems with the provision of fuel.

In Damascus, there is no rush hour on the streets, where there is no usual crowd, after many decided to park their cars and limit their use to emergencies.

Under the latest austerity measures, taxis can only receive subsidized fuel once a month, rather than once a week as before.

“Gasoline allowances are missing for more than two working days,” Bassam Zahrawi, a 39-year-old taxi driver, told AFP.

With each additional rationing of fuel distribution, drivers are forced to resort more and more to the black market and increase the cost of transport tariffs. Bassam explains: “We constantly quarrel with customers, because whatever amount we ask, they consider it expensive, and we consider it insufficient.”

Instead of moving around the streets of Damascus looking for clients, Basim stops his car until he receives specific requests from clients who call him.

“We used to be looking for our clients, but today clients are looking for us,” he says.

Prime Minister Hussein Arnus told reporters Thursday that his government was forced to raise fuel prices or it would stop “all services, whether in agriculture, industry, transport or hospitals and bakeries.”

Damascus has always considered the economic sanctions imposed on it the main reason for the constant deterioration of its economy, on the one hand, and its inability to import its fuel needs, on the other hand, especially when the largest oil fields have fallen out of its control. until it became 90 percent dependent on imports.

Since 2011, Syria’s oil and gas sector has suffered heavy losses, estimated at $111.9 billion, according to official statistics.

Arnus has exacerbated the fuel crisis again in recent weeks due to “the rise in the dollar exchange rate that the world is seeing and the consequences of the war” in Ukraine.

In light of the renewable fuel crisis, Abu Muhammad D. (25) was forced to replace fuel oil with firewood to keep his modest shop in central Damascus from closing, like other bakeries that have found themselves in a quandary.

“We have been suffering from a growing shortage of fuel for several months, but I did not expect that the day would come when I would not find a single liter of diesel fuel,” he told AFP.

Abu Mohammed resorted to the black market, but he could no longer afford it due to the high prices caused by the continued fall in the value of the Syrian pound against the dollar.

He says: “I was faced with two options of closing or looking for an alternative so as not to lose my livelihood. I have not found a solution other than firewood”, which requires a large amount of them to ensure sufficient production of his various confections, which he also had to “reduce in size rather than increase the price for them”.

Half of the private bakeries in Damascus have stopped operating since the beginning of this month, according to what Bassam Qalaji, head of the Sweets Association, told local radio last week.

“This is the most severe and longest crisis we have gone through,” says Abu Mohammed.

“We are used to crises and always try to work around them, but this is not a sustainable solution,” he added.

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