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

Damascus Cheapest Worldwide, but Worst Place to Live

Damascus Cheapest Worldwide, but Worst Place to Live

Tuesday, 24 November, 2020 - 07:30
People queue up at gas stations in Damascus. (AFP)

The capital of war-ravaged Syria, Damascus, has been confirmed as the cheapest city worldwide in terms of expenses, but undoubtedly, the worst to live in.

The country is suffering from a deteriorating economy and a continued plunge of the Syrian pound. Its value plummeted to historic lows, hitting 3,000 to the US dollar, for the first time since June.

Meanwhile, Syrians are bracing for winter that it is expected to be the hardest since the eruption of the war nearly a decade ago. They are suffering from a fuel and electricity shortage, hiking prices and the absence of many basic food products, especially bread.

The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) released its biannual “Worldwide Cost of Living (WCOL)” report on the World’s Most Expensive Cities in 2020. It ranked Damascus the cheapest city to live in in terms of costs, but the worst in terms of living.

The report compared the prices of 138 products and compared them with how much they are priced in 133 cities around the world. It examined the costs of rent, transportation, education, food and drink, household goods and personal care. Prices in the local currency were compared to the US dollar, while taking into account the impact of the novel coronavirus pandemic.

After relative stability over the summer, where it traded at 2,200 pounds to the dollar, the currency began to slide again. It traded at 2,930 to the dollar on the black market on Sunday.

The sharp drop led to fluctuating prices of goods.

A merchant in Damascus told Asharq Al-Awsat that dozens of shops and small enterprises are forced to close with every “shock” in the exchange rate, explaining that the inflation harms small businesses the most.

The problem, he added, is that Syrian society relies on such small business to push forward the flailing economy, saying that no matter how high prices rise, they do not cover the losses caused by the unstable exchange rates on the short term.

Abu Atef, an engineering consultant at the public sector, who receives a monthly salary of $100, said the lack of basic materials in the country has changed the daily priorities of Syrians.

“Last winter, we had a priority of securing household gas and diesel for heating. This year, the priority is to security bread and transport means,” he said.

Abu Atef said that in 2003, he received a salary of about 100,000 Syrian pounds or $2,000 a month, while today, he is paid 250,000 pounds, which is equivalent to $100 or less.

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