Syria is facing a tougher winter this year, with fuel increasingly difficult to find and the cost of diesel rising dramatically (up 140% in some parts of the country). The scarcity of diesel is making a bad problem even worse, sparking an active black market selling it for extremely high prices.
As a result Syrians are resorting to the use of firewood to heat their homes, in what’s become the easiest and often the only solution to stave off the winter cold.
Syria Deeply spoke with Yousef, a woodcutter in Damascus, who has made a robust business out of selling lumber to keep Syrians warm.
Syria Deeply: Is the high cost of diesel the only reason why people are leaning more towards wood, or are there other reasons?
Yousef: Everyone knows about the difficult and often cruel financial circumstances Syrians are facing today. Syrian families try to spend as little money as possible, so wood has become the obvious choice for warmth during the winter. A new profession of tree cutting and trading has been borne out of this crisis, with new traders and customers.
Syria Deeply: If we compare the usage of wood before and after the war, how much would you estimate the demand has increased?
Yousef: This comparison cannot be made because the use of wood [used to be] next to nothing: very few people relied on wood. But I would estimate that the sale of wood has multiplied more than 12 times since the start. What has resulted is the new profession of logging, which didn’t previously exist in Syria. I myself, in my humble workshop, have hired more than 20 workers, while before it used to be just me and my brother.
Syria Deeply:How many tons of wood would a Syrian family of five need to cover the winter?
Yousef: An average Syrian family needs between 80-100 kg (176-220 pounds) a week … it depends on how many people are in the family and how cold it is.
Syria Deeply:What is the cost of wood in winter for a Syrian family? How has the cost increased?
Yousef: The cost of wood is set locally, and there is no direct connection between the wood market and other markets. The major wood traders immediately noticed the increasing demand in winter. The price of a ton of regular wood became 20,000 Syrian pounds ($120 US dollars) while it used to be 8,000 Syrian pounds ($48), and a ton of olive wood used to cost 11,000 Syrian pounds ($66), but now it costs 24,000 ($144). The price of mahlab wood, which burns slowly and doesn’t smoke, increased from 15,000 ($90) to 28,000 ($168). The average Syrian family needs to spend about 60,000 Syrian pounds ($360) on wood each year.
Syria Deeply: What sort of profit are wood traders making?
Yousef: Cutting two trees a day makes enough wood to be priced at 50-60,000 Syrian pounds ($300-360) depending on what kind of wood it is. It costs around 20,000 Syrian pounds ($120) for transportation, workers’ fees and cutting machines, so the profit for the trader is about 30,000 Syrian pounds ($180).
Syria Deeply:Since the price of wood was affected by the rocketing market prices, did this also affect the price of wood stoves?
Yousef: Of course. After these stoves were no longer in use for years, the demand for them rose again in the Damascene market. Their prices rose even more this year compared to the last two years; the price of a normal wood stove is now 4,000 Syrian pounds ($24) while it used to be only 1,500 Syrian pounds ($9). Other kinds of stoves, of bigger sizes and popular trademarks, became more expensive; their prices went from 3,500 Syrian pounds ($21) to 8,000 Syrian pounds ($48).
A medium stove costs 6,500 Syrian pounds ($39) while it used to be 2,500 Syrian pounds ($15). But the price of gas and diesel stoves doubled and in some cases went up even more than that.
Syria Deeply:How is cutting all those trees affecting the forest resources?
Yousef: The already depleted forest will be further damaged due to the random and disorganized tree cutting. The sources for these trees are the forests located in between residential areas, which are now being stripped. This random cutting is causing an environmental disaster, because some of these trees are more than 200 years old, and they are a true wealth indeed.