Finding Bread in Aleppo

Abu Leila is a Syrian journalist from Aleppo who contributes reporting and analysis to Syria Deeply. He has written under that pen name since the start of the conflict. Today he gives us a look at the bread shortage in Aleppo. Subsidized bread, paid for by the government, is a mainstay of many families struggling to put food on the table. Over the past week, subsidized bakeries have shut down, leaving many of those families hungry.

Written by Abu Leila Published on Read time Approx. 3 minutes

Syria’s economic hub, Aleppo, has been paralyzed by violence and fighting between regime forces and rebels for almost five months now.

Since the uprising started the city has suffered from shortages of basic needs, such as bread, fuel, and gas. The battling sides have gone too radical that today many of them recognize no limits in their fight, even if it means the starvation and displacement of the people and the destruction of their homes and insecurity.

In the last two days the price of one kilogram of bread has reached 250 Syrian pounds (roughly $3.38), which is ten times of its price a month ago, and almost 20 times the price before the uprising. (Here’s a clip of bread lines in Aleppo).

Most of the bakeries that sell subsidized bread – the only thing some families can afford – have stopped working. There’s one still open in al-Shahba neighborhood. The reason they stopped is the lack of subsidized fuel and being forced to buy it from the black market for almost 110 SYP. Usually it is too hard to find fuel these days, almost impossible, even from the black market. It is worth noting that before this crisis, most of these bakeries used to sell their allocations of subsidized fuel and flour in the black market with obscene profit instead of using it in the bakeries.

Another reason why bakeries stopped working is that they are not receiving flour. There are several rumors about not getting the flour. Regime loyalists blame the rebels, saying that grain silos are no longer supplying wheat because their stocks have been moved to other provinces or sold by rebels to neighboring countries, namely Turkey.

However, some bakeries, which sell non-subsidized bread, are still working. The most important of these bakeries in Aleppo is called Shamsin. It is located on the Damascus road and owned by the famous Aleppian Sarmini family and their Lebanese partners. The capacity of these bakeries is more than tens of thousands of packages of bread every day. They buy flour and fuel from the black market with the free non-subsidized prices. But it’s not bread that every family can afford.

Before subsidized bakeries stopped working, these salesmen and distributors used to wait lines for hours, they also used to bring their family members to wait in line so they would get more rations. They used to get in line over and over again to take as many packages of cheap bread as possible. Then they used to transport the bread with their cars and distribute them to the shops with 75 SYP for each package. This was enough for the distributors to pay for fuel and make profit.

When subsidized bakeries stopped and the demand for non-subsidized bread increased, independent salesmen and distributors started to exploit the situation and act with an unforeseen greed. They increased their profit margin from 10 SYP to 100 SYP. That meant the price of one package of bread hit higher than 200 SYP.

This means that if a distributor sells his daily quota of 100 packages, he will make 10 thousand SYP net profits. And the distributor who sells 500 packages will make 50,000 SYP net profits.

Raising the price of bread in a very short time like this affects the people in a very sharp way. Bread is a major commodity in the Syrian home and many poor families depend on bread to save their day. Especially the big families, who need more bread, are affected the worst in this situation.

On one hand, the regime can no longer hold its control on Aleppo, while on the other hand rebel fighters are still not fit to provide the people with their basic needs. However, war profiteers have made the situation even worse. The situation in the city needs immediate action, or else we will watch a horrifying humanitarian crisis in one of the oldest centers of civilization in the world.

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