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Soaring Bread Prices Add to Idlib's Woes

Locals already struggling to cope with a general rise in food costs.
By Ahmad al-Salim
  • Children cling on to their bread with delight. (Photo: Ahmad al-Salim)
    Children cling on to their bread with delight. (Photo: Ahmad al-Salim)

Fuel shortages, a poor harvest and falling subsidies have led to a serious bread shortage in opposition-controlled areas of the Idlib countryside.

In some villages in the Idlib countryside the price of one packet of bread, generally 100 Syrian liras, rose to 175 liras or even 250 liras, quivalent to half a US dollar per kilo.

This has compounded the suffering of civilians in liberated areas who are already dealing with a general rise in food costs.

Many bakeries in the Idlib countryside were forced to put their prices up after the transport route used to transport fuel through Dar Azzah was bombed and many tankers were burned. The announcement also followed clashes between Kurdish militias and armed opposition factions near Afrin.   

The road closure in Aleppo’s northern countryside, due to clashes between the Islamic State (IS) and opposition factions, has been the main reason for the soaring prices of diesel, with a 200-litre barrel costing 100,000 liras.

The price of most basic goods are largely dependent on fuel costs.

Ayman al-Akhras, a fuel trader, said, “When the People’s Protection Units killed several revolutionaries in the outskirts of the town of Afrin battles, ensued between the two sides which led to a complete road closure imposed by the Kurdish People’s Protection Units.

“And, when the road was re-opened by the Islamic State, the People’s Protection Units and opposition factions, Russian and Syrian fighter jets started targeting the diesel route in Aleppo countryside with dozens of airstrikes. So shipping diesel to Idlib countryside became difficult.”

“Each day thousands of vehicles and tankers carrying diesel enter areas under Islamic State control. However, sometimes truckers get stuck for more than a month before they are allowed to enter areas under Kurdish People’s Protection Units control in Afrin and surrounding villages.”

Some aid agencies have aldo scrapped subsidies for wheat flour, already at a premium following a poor 2016 harvest.

Muhammad Zaydan, who runs a charity-funded bakery, said that they used to buy tens of tonnes of wheat flour each month so as to sell bread at subsidised prices to people in liberated areas.

Some months ago, most agencies had their supplies of wheat flour  completely cut. With no subsidies available, the price went up again.

“Every season, the subsidies coordination unit would purchase the whole wheat harvest from citizens in Idlib countryside and sell the flour to bakeries,” Zaydan said. “One tonne of wheat flour was sold for 150 dollars. Then that price increased to more than 200 dollars. As a result, bakeries increased the price of bread.”   

Zaydan said he hoped the rise would be only temporary, noting that there were recurrent shortages each year when aid agencies adopted new plans.

Meanwhile, food prices continued to rise in opposition-held areas in Idlib countryside, especially the price of sugar. As an austerity measure, shops began to limit the sale of sugar to a few kilogrammes per family.

“Sugar disappeared from the market because a sugar consignment sent by the Iranian government through Bab al-Hawa border crossing was taken by the crossing authorities and sent to Turkey for laboratory tests to ensure that it was fit for human consumption,” said Huthayfah al-Awad, who lives in the Idlib countryside. “The same previously happened to a baby milk consignment.”

Al-Awad added, “Civilians in Idlib countryside feel that aid deliveries including bread have been suspended under international pressure to force Syrians inside Syria to succumb to terms put forward by international powers, especially following the withdrawal of negotiators from the Geneva talks.”

“Unemployment in liberated areas, which are under constant bombardment, is on the rise, and the situation is further exacerbated by the paralysis affecting trading as a result of high fuel prices,” he continued. “Meanwhile, citizens are struggling to make ends meet.”    

Abu al-Baha, who works for a Syrian NGO, said that they were trying to bring the situation under control.

“We paid a lot for 1,000 tons of wheat from liberated areas just because we wanted to encourage farmers to sell their harvest instead of smuggling it out to regime-controlled areas or to Turkey,” he said, adding, “After grinding the wheat, we will supply a number of bakeries with flour. We will also supply them with Turkish white flour which they should mix with Syrian flour to improve the quality and increase the quantity of bread which we hope will be sold at reasonable prices.”

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