Syria’s Assad offers stimulus to public workers as crisis deepens

Nearly 80 percent of Syrians live in poverty and 60 percent are food insecure, according to the United Nations.

Syrian men carry bags of bread on their heads while walking back to their homes.
Millions of Syrians are being pushed deeper into poverty, and a majority of households can hardly scrape together enough money to secure their next meal [File: Hassan Ammar/AP Photo]

Amid sharp economic decline, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad issued a decree on Tuesday granting hundreds of thousands of public sector workers and soldiers a one-time financial stimulus, equivalent to an average monthly salary.

The stimulus — the third since October — comes as the national currency is crashing, now at more than 4,000 Syrian pounds to the United States dollar on the black market, compared to 700 a year ago. The official rate is fixed at 1,256 Syrian pounds for $1.

The decision comes a day after the government raised the price of fuel, including subsidised fuel, by more than 50 percent in the third increase this year. It also raised the price of cooking gas.

Nearly 80 percent of Syrians live in poverty, and 60 percent are food insecure — the worst food security situation ever seen in Syria, according to the United Nations.

The decree stated that a one-time payment of 50,000 Syrian pounds, which is nearly $11 on the black market, would go to public sector workers, including those on part-time contracts and conscripts. And 40,000 Syrian pounds, about $8.80, would be dispensed to pensioners.

Inflation has hit between 180 and 300 percent, according to the Syria Central Bureau of Statistics. The price of a kilogram (2.2 pounds) of sugar has gone from 700 Syrian pounds to around 2,400 this year.

The stimulus for public sector workers and soldiers comes as Syria’s national currency is crashing, now at more than 4,000 Syrian pounds to the dollar on the black market, compared to 700 just a year ago [File: Hussein Malla/Reuters]

The Ministry of Interior Trade and Consumer Protection said the price of unsubsidised fuel would go up from 1,300 Syrian pounds per litre to 2,000 pounds, a more than 50 percent increase. The price of subsidised fuel would increase by nearly 60 percent, to 750 Syrian pounds per litre. The price of butane gas for cooking went up 37 percent.

Economist Ziad Ghosn said the one-time payment is equivalent to the average monthly salary and estimated the cost of the stimulus would be around 120 billion Syrian pounds. He also estimated the stimulus would reach about two million people.

Syrians have been struggling with deteriorating economic conditions and shortages of basic goods and medicine, and have been forced to wait in long lines to buy subsidised bread and fuel.

A decade of conflict has caused huge devastation to the Syrian economy, isolated its government and displaced its people, driving most of them into poverty. Coronavirus pandemic restrictions have added to pressure on the economy, compounded by the financial crisis in neighbouring Lebanon, which has been a bridge to Syria economically and financially.

More than half a million people have been killed in Syria’s 10-year conflict, which has also left the country’s infrastructure in ruins and most of its oil and agriculture resources outside of government control.

Source: AP