Photo: Aaref Wated/AFP

Amid Syria’s economic crisis and a currency collapse, food prices are soaring further.

The UN’s World Food Programme reports that the cost of a collection of basic food items has doubled in six months. The Syrian currency, already at a historic low, has fallen by about 70%.

The WFP calculated that another 1.4 million Syrians do not have adequate food. The total of“food insecure” is now 9.3 million, more than half the 17 million population.

The Syrian Pound is now about 2,000:1 v. the US dollar, as funds are threatened by a troubled banking system in neighboring Lebanon, in which about $30 billion to $40 billion of Syrian capital is locked up. The pound, 47:1 v. the dollar when the uprising began in March 2011, was less than 600:1 in late 2019.

Food stocks have been further hindered by disruption of supply chains amid Coronavirus. Provisions from Syria’s farmers is limited by rising costs for fertiliser, pesticides, and fuel.

Imran Riza, the UN representative in Damascus, says, “We are seeing children going to bed hungry now, which we did not see before. The reality now is simply that people can’t afford food.”

Regime-held areas have suffered for years from inflation and shortages of fuel and cooking gas. Electricity blackouts are common. About 80% of Syrians live in poverty, with a minimum wage equal to about $26 per month.

Last week Bashar al-Assad changed the Trade Minister in an attempt to shift the appearance, if not the substance of the crisis.

But the regime, long accused of corruption, has been further shaken as it tries to squeeze out revenues in an economy which has lost 75% of its GDP. The attempt to take money and even seize the assets of Assad’s cousin, billionaire tycoon Rami Makhlouf, has sparked Makhlouf’s fightback in a series of videos denouncing security services and appealing to Assad.

With Russia reportedly concerned about Assad’s leadership on a series of political and economic matters, he admitted this month, that Syrians face “two options: hunger, poverty and destitution versus getting the disease [of Coronavirus]”.

An NGO worker in Damascus explained, “No food disappeared, but it’s impossible to afford.” Having sold his motorcycle, he “can barely afford the basics”.