Meanwhile, a sharp decline in the value of the Syrian pound has left residents wondering whether their savings will be rendered worthless.
The Syrian pound, valued at 47 to the dollar before the conflict began, dipped last week to 315 against the dollar on the black market, prompting the government to announce emergency measures. A new law would impose a minimum sentence of three years for exchanging money without a licence, while exporting food items overseas has been deemed illegal.
“The money that I saved used to mean security, but with the fall of the pound against the dollar, it means nothing now,” Abu Hashim, a 52-year-old Damascus resident whose family owns several shops, said in a phone interview.
The businessman, like many Syrians, is faced with a quandary: whether to convert his savings into dollars and cut his losses or hope that the pound bounces back.
“I honestly don’t know what to do,” he said. “I don’t want to keep money in the pound, as I’m scared it might fall again, but I don’t want to sell hard-earned money for quarter the value I got it for.”
The official exchange rate, currently 105 pounds to the dollar, is generally ignored by currency traders. A government intervention last week to buy Syrian pounds from money exchanges at 250 to the dollar, much closer to the black-market rate, appears to have injected some stability.
In a statement last Thursday, Prime Minister Wael al-Halki said the move would bring the rate back to “acceptable levels.” The pound had recovered to 220 to the dollar on Wednesday, but exchange dealers said they doubt that government strategy can do much in the long term.
“No matter how many different solutions you use to fix it, it might not be enough,” said Samer Kantakji, chairman of Syria’s Islamic Business Research Center and general manager of the exchange company al-Adham.
“Production has halted. This financial situation won’t get better if the bleeding does not stop and production does not return,” Kantakji said.
A ban on oil imports to the European Union is estimated to cost Syria’s economy $400 million a month, while tourism, which accounted for 12 percent of the gross domestic product before the war, has collapsed.
Damascus residents say that some army checkpoints in the capital are demanding that passersby present papers to show that they have paid their utility bills, as state companies attempt to stem losses.