The Syrian Lira has deprecated against the US dollar, bringing the exchange rate on the black market to about 300 Syrian Liras to the US dollar, from around 50 when the Syrian uprising began in March 2011. This has exacerbated the price of common goods in the markets of the Aleppo countryside, as it has in the rest of Syria.
Vegetables, meat, tobacco, fuel, and cleaning products have become more expensive, thus making it more difficult for limited-income Syrians to purchase these basic commodities. A tour around the souks in the cities of Manbij and Jarablos shows how those who are paid in Syrian Liras suffer at a time when the monthly income for any employee does not exceed 100 US Dollars.
“Prices show no mercy and households are in need of basic necessities,” said Jomaa, 32, from Manbij. “We used to be able to go home after a hard day’s work carrying a kilo of tomatoes, a kilo of beans, and another of cucumbers. But now after the increase in prices I can no longer afford most household items and have had to do without them.”
Jomaa said a kilo of goat meat costs 1300 Syrian Liras now, so “eating meat has now become a dream for citizens of my social class.
“I have decided to quit smoking because feeding my family is more important,” he said.
The price hikes are not limited to imported goods, but have also affected locally produced goods. The main problem is that while prices increase with the increase of the value of the dollar, they do not decrease when the dollar goes down.
“We do not understand why the prices of local goods are increasing,” said Yasser Al-Hussein, 35, a farmer from the Jarablos countryside. “It does not make sense that vegetables grown by local farmers become more expensive because they have nothing to do with the price of the dollar.”
Abu Mohammad is a vegetable seller in his thirties from the city of Manbij. He’s also facing problems due to price hikes.
“Bananas have not entered my house for months,” he said. “I cannot buy anything that is not absolutely essential. I might not even be able to buy all the necessities.”
Economic reports theorize that Washington’s decision to arm the opposition was one of the main reasons for the increase in the dollar exchange rate. The Syrian Central Bank announced a plan to decrease the dollar exchange rate to 150 Syrian Liras by Eid El-Fitr. In the last few months, the government has faced difficulties in injecting the necessary amount of dollars into the market that would bring the exchange rate down. Syrians are now afraid to hold on to Syrian currency, and many are buying dollars and Euros. In border towns, transactions are now taking place in Jordanian Dinars and Turkish Liras, despite the recent drop in the value of Turkish currency.
“Some people advised me to exchange all I have in Syrian Liras to Turkish Liras,” said Ramadan Mohammad, 23, a tobacco trader. “I was convinced, because if I have 100,000 Syrian Liras today, it is worth 1000 Turkish Liras. But if the Syrian Lira goes down even more, then 100,000 will only equal 500 Turkish Liras.”
Many complain that the reason for the price increase is merchant greed. Ousama Hamza, 28, an importer of goods from Turkey, rejects this accusation.
“It is natural that the decrease of the value of the Syrian Lira to the dollar leads to an increase in the prices of goods, since we import from Turkey in dollars. When we sell, of course we need to make some profit. We are now buying the dollar at a high rate, and when we sell in Syrian Liras it is going to be expensive. This is not greed, nor is it taking advantage of people. The increase of the dollar forces us to sell at a higher price than before,” he explained.
Hamza says most of the factories of Aleppo moved to Turkey, and this is another reason for price hikes. He says the cost of an item that is manufactured and sold in Syria is much less than the cost of producing it in Turkey.
“This forces the merchant to sell the item for much higher that he used to,” he added.
Many also accuse merchants of playing with prices as the annual Ramadan-inspired food price hikes kicked-in.
“Regardless of the exchange rate of the dollar, this is a game that black market merchants now resort to,” said Ali, a government employee in his thirties. “Some of them store goods only to raise their prices and sell them for huge amounts during the month of Ramadan.”
“Who is responsible for stopping these traders who are mushrooming everywhere in the absence of strict oversight over prices and while people are busy trying to secure their daily bread?” he asked.
Local councils that have been established to run the opposition-controlled areas of the Aleppo province do not have any mechanisms to control price hikes, according to a source close to the Council of the Free Province of Aleppo, who did not want to disclose his name.
“The province council is far removed from these issues,” he said.
The source criticized the appointment of the council representatives without elections, saying that most of them do not have any experience running a small office, and wonders how they will manage to run people’s affairs in a whole city.
Abdel Malek al-Sheikh is the head of the economic office in the Council of the Free Province of Aleppo. He says his organization is not able to deal with the price hikes at this time.
“We have not yet activated the Directorate of Supply to deal with this issue,” he told The Damascus Bureau. “We really lack expertise and those who have it are reluctant to cooperate with us. This issue needs military might to enforce the punishment of violations, and we are now communicating with some parties to activate the work of the Directorate.”