FILE – In this Jan. 20, 2017 file photo, Syrian men carry bags of bread on their heads while walking back to their homes in the once rebel-held Bustan al-Qasr neighborhood in the eastern Aleppo, Syria. As Syria marks the 10th anniversary Monday, March 15, 2021, of the start of its uprising-turned-civil war, President Bashar Assad may still be in power, propped up by Russia and Iran. But millions of people are being pushed deeper into poverty, and a majority of households can hardly scrape together enough to secure their next meal. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar, File.
DAMASCUS, Syria (AP) — Amid sharp economic decline, Syrian President Bashar 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 dollar on the black market, compared to 700 a year ago. The official rate for the dollar is fixed at 1,256 Syrian pounds for $1.
The decision comes a day after the government raised the price of fuel, including subsidized, by more than 50% in the third increase this year. It also raised the price of cooking gas.
Nearly 80% of Syrians live in poverty, and 60% are food insecure — the worst food security situation ever seen in Syria, according to the United Nations.
The decree stated that a one-time 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 would be dispensed to pensioners.
Inflation has hit between 180 and 300%, 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 Ministry of Interior Trade and Consumer Protection said the price of unsubsidized fuel would go up from 1,300 Syrian pounds per liter to 2,000 pounds, a more than 50% increase. The price of subsidized fuel would increase by nearly 60%, to 750 Syrian pounds per liter. The price of butane gas for cooking went up 37%.
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 2 million people.
Syrians have been struggling with deteriorating economic conditions, shortages of basic goods and medicine, and have been forced to wait in long lines to buy subsidized 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. The pandemic restrictions have added to pressure on the economy, compounded by the financial crisis in neighboring 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 that has also left the country’s infrastructure in ruins and most of its oil and agriculture resources outside of government control.