Before the war, it took 48 Syrian pounds to buy a US dollar, now it takes 700. Inflation is holding back imports, especially life-saving drugs, like those for chemotherapy. For Bishop Abou Khazen, the military war has morphed into an economic war. He wants the sanctions regime to be ended before “things get worse”.
Aleppo (AsiaNews) – Economic sanctions against Syria "are a crime" that hit first of all "the people", preventing the country’s recovery as it struggles after eight years of war, said the Apostolic Vicar of Aleppo of the Latins, Mgr Georges Abou Khazen.
For the prelate, the military conflict has given way to "economic and trade war" and "it is always ordinary people” who suffer. Hence, “sanctions must be removed immediately before things get worse.”
One of the most obvious signs of the Western grip on Syria is the collapse of the local currency. "Before the war, a US dollar was worth 48, at most 50 Syrian pounds. Last week it was close to 700. Today, the exchange rate is at around 630.”
Inflation is "strangling the economy, and ordinary people are the most affected; the first victims of the high cost of life," the vicar explained.
"Today it is difficult to find goods and materials, even basic ones, above all the goods that come from abroad. People do not know how to get them because they don’t have money and the materials available are hard to find. So many things easily available before the war are now in short supply.”
What is more, "People must survive on the same pay as in the pre-war period, but it is obvious that today wages’ purchasing power is far lower. Today, in fact, we do not live.”
Analysts and experts agree that the collapse of the Syrian pound is one of the most obvious signs of the very serious difficulties faced by a country as it struggles to put the tragic conflict behind.
The apostolic vicar noted that, after more than eight years, the security situation in Damascus, Aleppo and other major cities has improved, but much remains to be done "from an economic point of view”.
Fighting continues in some pockets, like Idlib. There are fears of a new escalation due to the presence in the area of Kurds, Turks, Americans and their regional allies.
Among the causes of the pound’s collapse is the high demand for US dollars in neighbouring Lebanon, whose banking system is used by Syrian importers.
The government is trying to stop inflation and the black market, but so far, its efforts have proved inadequate. The currency crisis has brought the importers to their knees, forced to trade in dollars.
"There are a lot of products that you can no longer find in the market because we've been reluctant to buy them at the new price," said Old City of Damascus, Haytham Ghanmeh, who sells cosmetics in the Old City of Damascus.
For the vicar of Aleppo, sanctions have, among other things, “almost eliminated the import of life-saving drugs for chemotherapy and cancer treatment or the drugs necessary for dialysis in diabetes patients.”
“Some generic drugs are produced in Syria and they are not in short supply. But if we talk about those to treat cancer or other important diseases, the situation is quite different.”
Dispirited, Mgr Abou Khazen acknowledges that "People are getting more and more tired and don't know what to do."
"After the military war, now we have to face the economic one via US and European sanctions. Each family is allowed only 100 litres of petrol per month, one gas cylinder that barely meets the needs to cook, not mention heating oil for the winter. At this point, it is increasingly difficult to move forward and people are losing hope".