Asharq Al-awsat English Middle-east and International News and Opinion from Asharq Al-awsat Newspaper

Covid-19 Exposes Nutritional, Health Shortcomings in Syria

Covid-19 Exposes Nutritional, Health Shortcomings in Syria

The "autonomous administration" in the northeast of the country accuses Damascus of not cooperating during the pandemic
Thursday, 9 April, 2020 - 11:30
Syrian senior reading safety instructions from a leaflet on the novel virus in northern Syria (AP)

After failing to implement the decisions to ban gatherings in front of bakeries and assign delegates to distribute bread in neighborhoods, Damascus plans to distribute it with the use of smart cards in the governorates of Damascus and the Rural Damascus.

The provision of subsidized bread (fifty Liras per kilo= eight loaves of pita bread) is the most pressing problem facing Damascus, as the measures to curtail the spread of the coronavirus, which have been in effect since mid-March, have exacerbated the bread crisis. The situation has reached a point fist-fights are breaking out in front of bakeries, like one that broke out in Sahnaya in rural Damascus two days ago after a man and women quarreled over their positions in the queue. In the Zahra neighborhood, there was congestion and chaos around one of the authorized bread distributors, where bread was distributed by throwing it to the crowd.

Official statements indicate that the governorates of Damascus and its countryside are preparing for the distribution of bread with the use of smart cards and that the necessary lists have been prepared for the delegates in the administrative units of state bakeries, while the Ministry of internal trade and supply is making arrangements for distribution through private bakeries. The implementation of this decision is set to begin within days in both Damascus and its countryside. The amount allocated for each family is determined by its size at a rate of eight loaves (a bundle) for every four people, with the most densely populated set to be the first sights of implementation.

The ministry of supply was widely criticized after the declaration of the plan. For while the daily ration of families of three is set at one bundle a day, families of four to seven receive two bundles and families of more than seven receive three bundles, the ministry did not announce the number of smart card identification devices that will be distributed to delegates, and there are indications that only one hundred will be available in Damascus. With such a scarcity of identification devices, the problem of congestion would not be solved.

When the curfew was first announced, people rushed to buy large quantities of bread for fear of famine ensuing from a prolonged curfew. The quality of bread has also declined, especially in Damascus and its countryside, thereby increasing demand for bread from privately-owned bakeries and "touristic" bread. The prices of the latter increased in turn, with the price of a bundle of touristic bread (fortified with milk and sugar) now at 700 Liras, 150 Liras more expensive than it had been twenty days before.

Western commercial sources revealed that the General Organization for Trade, Storage, and Grain Processing made a bid to buy 200 thousand tons of soft wheat to make bread so that they only import from Russia. It is worth pointing out that Syria’s food security was lost after it had been stable for many years, with its production of wheat declining from around 4 million tons before 2011 to around 1.5 million tons, of which Damascus receives only around 500 thousand tons.

The global pandemic of the novel Coronavirus revealed the degree of Damascus’ failure to provide the most basic nutritional and medical needs, with the health minister Nizar Yazigi saying that “there is great difficulty in providing ventilators because of the unilateral coercive measures that have imposed on Syria for the past nine years. He also said that “we are working to bypass them quickly and gradually by communicating with China to meet all of our needs”, emphasizing that “we cannot give assurances that just because the number of recorded cases so far is low”, 19 cases according to the health ministry.

Residents in Damascus and its countryside, however, claim that there are tens of cases, and unofficial medical sources claim that there 30 confirmed cases in Zabadani that have been isolated. There are also indications that there are cases in the countryside of Damascus, in the towns of Mneen, Duma, Harasta, Wadi Barada, Jadeidat Artouz and Al-Sayeda Zeinab and that several military personnel are quarantined in the Al-Qutaifa Hospital in eastern Qalamoun.

Meanwhile, the autonomous administration in the northeast of the country accused the Damascus government of not being cooperative and released a statement, as per the Deutch Press Agency, saying: “We are working with the resources available, with the administration’s institutions working to ensure that the virus does not enter our area.

"The Syrian authorities do not want to cooperate and its poor decisions have put the lives of our nation in the north and east of Syria in danger by bringing civilians to our areas without informing the autonomous administration or conducting the tests necessary to ensure that they are not infected.”

(One US dollar is equivalent to 1200 pounds)

Editor Picks