West sanctions add up to Syrians' suffering

West sanctions add up to Syrians' suffering
Sun Jul 21, 2013 10:04:05

After more than two years of relentless conflict, Syria’s government is trying to avert a secondary crisis: a sharp decline in the Syrian currency resulted by US-pushed strict sanctions on the war-torn country.

The war and the Western economic sanctions that have accompanied it have taken an inevitable toll, a report in the Washington Post said.

The Syrian economy has shrunk by 35 percent as industrial production has stalled, nearly half the population is unemployed and foreign currency reserves have been decimated, according to the United Nations, which estimates the overall impact on the economy to be as much as $80 billion.

Meanwhile, a sharp decline in the value of the Syrian pound has left residents wondering whether their savings will be rendered worthless.

The Syrian pound, valued at 47 to the dollar before the conflict began, dipped last week to 315 against the dollar on the black market, prompting the government to announce emergency measures.

A new law would impose a minimum sentence of three years for exchanging money without a license, while exporting food items overseas has been deemed illegal.

“The money that I saved used to mean security, but with the fall of the pound against the dollar, it means nothing now,” Abu Hashim, a 52-year-old Damascus resident whose family owns several shops, said in a phone interview.

The businessman, like many Syrians, is faced with a quandary: whether to convert his savings into dollars and cut his losses or hope that the pound bounces back.

“I honestly don’t know what to do,” he said. “I don’t want to keep money in the pound, as I’m scared it might fall again, but I don’t want to sell hard-earned money for quarter the value I got it for.”

The official exchange rate, currently 105 pounds to the dollar, is generally ignored by currency traders. A government intervention last week to buy Syrian pounds from money exchanges at 250 to the dollar, much closer to the black-market rate, appears to have injected some stability.

In a statement last Thursday, Prime Minister Wael Al-Halqi said the move would bring the rate back to “acceptable levels”.
The pound had recovered to 220 to the dollar on Wednesday, but exchange dealers said they doubt that government strategy can do much in the long term.

“No matter how many different solutions you use to fix it, it might not be enough,” said Samer Kantakji, chairman of Syria’s Islamic Business Research Center and general manager of the exchange company al-Adham.

“Production has halted. This financial situation won’t get better if the bleeding does not stop and production does not return,” Kantakji said.

A ban on oil imports to the European Union is estimated to cost Syria’s economy $400 million a month, while tourism, which accounted for 12 percent of the gross domestic product before the war, has collapsed.

Damascus residents say that some army checkpoints in the capital are demanding that passersby present papers to show that they have paid their utility bills, as state companies attempt to stem losses.

The Syria crisis started in March 2011, when pro-reform protests turned into a massive insurgency following intervention of western and regional states.

The unrest, which took in terrorist groups from across Europe, the Middle East and North Africa, has transpired as one of the bloodiest conflicts in recent history.

As the foreign-backed insurgency in Syria continues without an end in sight, the US government boosts its political and military support to Takfiri extremists.

Washington has remained indifferent about warnings by Russia and other world powers about the consequences of arming militant groups.


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