By Fadi Shubat
DAMASCUS: Businesses here are shutting their doors this week, as Syria grapples with a three-month long fuel shortage that has seen the price of some staple goods double, residents and store owners tell Syria Direct.
Syria typically receives shipments of oil products from Iran, a strategic ally in the region. The imported fuel allows the government to power its war machine and supply areas under its control, but a three-month long halt in shipments is pushing the government to carefully ration its supplies, leading to fuel shortages in Latakia, Tartous, Damascus, and other regime-held areas.
Though Syrian state media reported last Tuesday that a shipment of crude oil had reached Damascus and the crisis would be over within a week, residents tell the Syrian Voice that it is the latest of many promises by the regime to end the shortage, the earliest dating back to December of last year.
Lines at gas stations in Damascus stretch for kilometers, residents say. The central government ordered that fuel consumption be halved, with the exceptions of the Ministry of Defense, public hospitals, and state-owned factories.
Firas al-Jindi owns a shoe workshop in Damascus, but was pushed to halt operations earlier this month when he could not secure the diesel fuel he needed to continue.
“I can’t get diesel on the black market, either,” al-Jindi tells the Syrian Voice. “It’s much too expensive and I’d merely lose money.”
“When I close my shop, my 12 workers also lose their salaries,” he adds.
Though the regime sets the price of a liter of diesel fuel at SP280 ($0.52), buying from unofficial, black market vendors can cost more than SP700 ($1.30). For gasoline, the regime sets the price at SP250 ($0.46) per liter, but black market prices can exceed SP300 ($0.56), says Hadi al-Dimashqi, a resident of Damascus’s Saruja neighborhood.
Rawad al-Fustaqi, the owner of a private bakery in Damascus, had to raise her prices by half in order to stay in business, she tells the Syrian Voice. When energy costs got too high, she disconnected from the regime-controlled electrical grid and switched to diesel-fuelled generators.
Cars are clogging the roadways as people wait in line to buy gas, says pharmacist Rima al-Masri.
“People are watching the situation, waiting to see if the regime will keep its promises.”
The fuel crisis began three months ago, when expected shipments of crude oil from Iran were delayed due to a “technical mishap”, as initially described by the Syrian government. Since then, the regime has issued numerous statements announcing a swift end to the crisis—but no improvements followed them.
The Syrian government has lost control of much of the country’s oil-rich eastern provinces, which are now held by the Islamic State (ISIS). As a result, the regime cannot access the oil fields that once made Syria nearly self-sufficient in energy production, and must import fuel from outside sources like Iran.
Last Tuesday, the state-run SANA news agency reported that the crisis was nearly over, the regime having received a shipment of crude oil from Iran.
“Distribution of oil products has begun to improve,” Samir al-Hussein, the general manager of the Syrian national oil company told SANA on Tuesday. “The situation will return to normal by next week.”
Despite the government’s most recent assurances, many residents are unconvinced that the situation will improve any time soon.
“These statements are just to buy time,” says Rima al-Masri. “Previous statements said the same thing: that the crisis would end.”
“It’s just talk.”