DAMASCUS / BEIRUT – Significant price hikes for bread and diesel took effect on Sunday in government-controlled areas of war-torn Syria, causing civilians to suffer further in a long-lasting economic crisis.
The price of diesel has nearly tripled and the price of bread has doubled, according to the state-run SANA news agency, just days after Damascus announced an increase in the price of gasoline.
The move coincided with a decree issued on Sunday by President Bashar al-Assad that increases public sector wages by 50% and sets the minimum wage at 71,515 Syrian pounds per month ($ 57 at the official rate), up from 47,000 pounds. ($ 37).
In a second decree, Assad increased public sector and military pensions by 40%, according to SANA.
According to a revised price list released by SANA on Saturday night, a liter of diesel fuel will now cost 500 pounds, up from the 180 pounds that users in most industries used to pay.
Mustafa Haswiya, of the Syrian state-owned company for the storage and distribution of petroleum products, said that 80% of Syria’s hydrocarbon needs are purchased from abroad using foreign currency.
“It was necessary to raise prices in order to reduce the import bill,” which would otherwise have risked making petroleum products unaffordable, he said, citing SANA.
The price of subsidized bread doubled to 200 Syrian pounds. The state-run Syrian Bakery Foundation said the rise in the price of diesel fuel contributed to the increase, according to SANA.
The pro-government daily Al-Watan said on Sunday that the rise in diesel fuel would “increase the price of transport within and between provinces” by more than 26% and also make other goods more expensive.
He said the transportation, agriculture and industrial sectors will experience increased production costs, which will lead to further inflation.
The cost of heating homes will also increase by 178%, Al-Watan said, making it all the more inaccessible.
Damascus has repeatedly increased fuel prices in recent years to deal with an accelerated economic crisis triggered by the decade-long civil war in the country and exacerbated by sanctions.
The latest price hikes came nearly two weeks after the crisis-hit government of neighboring Lebanon raised fuel prices by more than 35% to tackle shortages that authorities attribute in part to smuggling to Syria.
For the seventh time in a year, the Lebanese Economy Ministry announced new prices for bread on Saturday, slowly removing subsidies as the country sinks deeper into a serious economic and political crisis.
The ministry said it was necessary to raise prices as the national currency continues to fall against the dollar, making imports of basic supplies, including fuel and wheat, more expensive. The currency, pegged to the dollar for nearly 30 years at 1,500 to the dollar, has lost more than 90% of its value. It is now trading at nearly 20,000 Lebanese pounds to the dollar.
This is the second price hike this month in Lebanon. The ministry increased the price of a bag of flatbread, a staple in Lebanon, by 6%, now selling it for 4,000 Lebanese pounds (or $ 2.7 at the official rate). The decision also included a further reduction in the size of the bread bag – this time by 5%.
Lebanon is in the throes of an economic crisis which almost brings daily life to a halt. Businesses are closing, pharmacies go on strike because they cannot obtain imported drugs. Fuel shortages have forced hospitals and the country’s only airport to ration their use, cutting air conditioning and lights in parts.