Da­m­as­cus ra­tions sub­si­dized food with smart cards

The Daily Star (Lebanon) - - BUSINESS -

DA­M­AS­CUS: Syria’s gov­ern­ment Satur­day started ra­tioning sub­sidised food like rice and sugar with smart cards, a min­istry said, in the lat­est mea­sure to ad­dress an eco­nomic cri­sis in the war-torn coun­try.

The value of the Syr­ian pound against the dol­lar has plum­meted on the black mar­ket in re­cent months, spark­ing price hikes on key food items.

Thou­sands of Syr­ian fam­i­lies for the first time used cards with builtin mi­crochips Satur­day to track and cap their pur­chases of sub­si­dized food, the min­istry of in­ter­nal trade and con­sumer pro­tec­tion said.

Un­der the new sys­tem, even the largest fam­ily can­not col­lect more than three ki­los of rice, four ki­los of sugar and 1 kilo of tea a month, it said on its Face­book page.

Smaller fam­i­lies are al­lowed even less ac­cord­ing to their size.

Sub­si­dies are key for Syr­i­ans liv­ing in gov­ern­ment-held ar­eas in a coun­try where the United Na­tions says war has com­pounded poverty.

But Ibrahim Saad, 51, asked how he was ex­pected to feed his fam­ily with the lat­est ra­tioning.

“The rice is not enough for a fam­ily of five or six peo­ple,” said Saad, a fa­ther of three who earns a mea­gre salary work­ing in a gro­cery store.

“Be­fore the war, we could buy any­thing,” he said.

But now he and his wife have to keep track each month of the sub­sidised food and fuel they are al­lowed to buy in or­der to make them last.

Last year, Da­m­as­cus im­posed lim­its on state-backed petrol for cars and mo­tor­bikes, as well as sub­sidised fuel oil and cook­ing gas.

Syria’s war has killed more than 380,000 peo­ple, but also rav­aged key eco­nomic in­fra­struc­ture, and sent oil and gas rev­enues plung­ing by bil­lions of dol­lars.

Economist Am­mar Yussef said food sub­si­dies were not hav­ing a huge im­pact on the av­er­age Syr­ian, and more needed to be done to ad­dress the over­all econ­omy.

“The Syr­ian econ­omy needs re­struc­tur­ing to suit the ex­cep­tional cri­sis it’s go­ing through,” he said, al­lud­ing to how hard it was to ob­tain hard cur­rency for im­ports and sanc­tions.

Pro-gov­ern­ment econ­o­mists blame the eco­nomic crunch on West­ern sanc­tions against Da­m­as­cus.

But they say de-facto de­val­u­a­tion of the Syr­ian pound is due to a liq­uid­ity cri­sis in neigh­bour­ing Le­banon, which has long served as a con­duit for for­eign cur­rency into gov­ern­ment-held ar­eas of Syria. –

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