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Price hikes make life harder in Idlib

Prices have increased dramatically ahead of Ramadan in opposition-held areas of Syria, where residents accuse Hayat Tahrir al-Sham of failing to help.
Syrians buy food supplies ahead of the Muslim month of Ramadan, at a shopping street in the northwestern rebel-held city of Idlib, on April 1, 2022.

Idlib witnessed a dramatic increase in the prices of foodstuffs, commodities and fuels ahead of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, further burdening civilians, especially the displaced. Living conditions in the Syrian opposition-held areas are deteriorating with a lack of job opportunities and decreasing value of wages as well as scarce support from humanitarian organizations.

The prices of many types of vegetables, fruits, meat and basic food items have risen along with fuel.

Khaled Jaber is living in a displacement camp in northern Idlib with his family of six. He told Al-Monitor, “There are no job opportunities. The limited ones available pay a daily wage of 30 Turkish liras [$2], which is only enough for a few kilos of vegetables. I rely on monthly humanitarian aid to provide food for my family, and it is never enough.”

Jaber added, “I cannot buy meat, as the price of a kilo has reached 100 Turkish liras [$6.78]. It was 70 liras [$4.75] before Ramadan. I cannot even buy the beverages we usually have during Ramadan, such as tamarind or licorice drinks. My psychological health is also deteriorating after being away from my home near Saraqib for nearly three years. Hayat Tahrir al-Sham and its government are to blame for this.”

Fatima Hajji, a widow with three children living in the Deir Hassan camps in the Idlib countryside, told Al-Monitor, “We have no gas and only use wood fires to cook." She added, "Usually, we serve several types of food for iftar, but given the prices, I can only cook one dish.”

Hajji explained, “For example, today I bought a kilo of eggplants for 25 liras [$1.70], a kilo of tomatoes for 20 liras [$1.36] and a kilo of potatoes for nine liras [$0.61]. This dish cost around 50 liras [$3.39] and it is barely enough for my children and myself. But where are we supposed to get 50 liras for every meal? The HTS-affiliated Salvation Government is responsible for this because it controls the area.”

Sami Hamdan, an Idlib-based activist, told Al-Monitor, “A lot of reasons led to the price increases, particularly the economic crisis around the world and espeically in Turkey. Since Idlib is directly linked to its surroundings, it was immediately affected by price increases, especially in the pandemic. The shipping sector was greatly affected, and the Russian-Ukrainian war was the straw that broke the camel’s back.”

He added, “Idlib is a war zone and lacks resources. The ruling authority is unable to provide any support in terms of basic materials, and everyone knows that the agricultural areas have declined significantly as a result of the shelling by the Syrian regime and the Russian forces. This overpopulated area has no natural resources such as oil or gas and the war has impeded tourism and industrial investment.”

Hamdan noted, “In addition to all of these factors, the Salvation Government has imposed ridiculous taxes and fees on imported goods, which contributed to price increases in the area.”

He added, “Meanwhile, the government decided to limit the trade of some materials such as fuel and sugar to specific companies affiliated with it, and this has undermined competition in the markets, which negatively affected prices.”

Hamdan continued, “The vast majority of the population in northern Syria is displaced. They do not own anything; even their tents are not theirs and they lost everything they owned during the displacement. With the lack of job opportunities, humanitarian aid became the only source of income for the majority of the population. However, the sources of humanitarian aid began to dry up when the Syrian issue lost momentum in international forums as countries became preoccupied with more dangerous crises.”

Hamdan stressed that there is popular discontent against the Salvation Government. “The people believe that the government is failing to control prices and mitigate the repercussions of economic crises.”

Hamdo al-Jassem, director of public relations at the Ministry of Economy in the Salvation Government, told Al-Monitor, “Idlib markets depend on importing vegetables and fruits from Turkey, and the increasing demand had led to price increases ahead of Ramadan. Supplies are low since most fruits and vegetables are out of season.”

He added, “The government is addressing the rise in prices through a long-term strategy to reduce imports and working to maintain food security by achieving self-sufficiency and encouraging hydroponic agriculture and intensive cultivation, which mitigates the repercussions of the global market amid the limited agricultural spaces within our areas.”

Jassem continued, “The government is also carrying out an emergency intervention by monitoring prices and market inflation on a daily basis and preventing monopolies. During the first quarter of 2022, the government issued 1,190 fines for market violations.”

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