Syria braces for tougher year in 2021 after suffering economic hardship amid COVID-19 pandemic, U.S. sanctions

DAMASCUS, Dec. 29 (Xinhua) by Hummam Sheikh Ali

 

Syria, whose economy went through a tough year in 2020 due to continued war, U.S. sanctions and the COVID-19 pandemic, braces for a worse year ahead as there’s little hope that the economic conditions will get better soon.

It is true that the security situation in Syria has improved in 2020, but its economic situation has taken a free fall. In addition to the civil war, U.S. sanctions and the pandemic, the deteriorating situation in neighboring Lebanon, hit by both the August explosions in Beirut Port and the coronavirus, also made things worse for Syria.

Lebanon’s economy worsened due to the two huge blasts in Beirut in early August and the pandemic, which forced the Lebanese banks to impose tight controls on money withdrawals and transfers abroad.

This severely impacted the Syrian economy, as most Syrian merchants have had bank accounts in Lebanon. When the Lebanese banks began imposing accounts freeze, the economic situation in Syria quickly deteriorated.

In November, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said that Lebanon’s freezing billions of U.S. dollars in deposits held by Syrian businessmen was the main cause behind Syria’s deepening economic crisis.

Assad estimated that Syrians hold between 20 to 42 billion U.S. dollars in Lebanon’s banks.

“This figure for an economy like Syria is terrifying,” the Syrian leader said.

In March, the first COVID-19 case was reported in Syria, followed by a partial lockdown that affected the already sluggish businesses in the country.

To make things worse, the U.S. imposed several rounds of economic sanctions on Syria in 2020, under the so-called Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act, which was signed into law by U.S. President Donald Trump in December 2019 and came into force on June 17, 2020.

A number of Syrian-operated industries, including those related to infrastructure, military maintenance, and energy production, are targeted. The bill also targets individuals and businesses who provide funding or assistance to the Syrian government.

Earlier in December, the U.S. slapped a new round of sanctions on Syria, targeting the Syrian Central Bank and blacklisting several people and entities to further suffocate the Syrian government.

With these crises unfolding, the Syrian pound continued to depreciate while the prices of all items skyrocketed. On top of that, an acute fuel shortage hit Syria, in addition to a rise in bread prices caused by a hike in the price of imported wheat.

In response, the Syrian government raised the prices of subsidized fuel and bread, while controlling the distribution through an electronic card which monitored the number of subsidized items a citizen can get per month.

Economic experts believe that 2020 was the worst year economically for Syria during the decade-long civil war.

“Truly, out of the 10 years of crisis in Syria, 2020 was the worst year economically for many reasons: the first is the coronavirus pandemic, which caused near destruction or a halt of the economy for a long time. The second is the consecutive U.S. sanctions that have been imposed on Syria during the same period,” Ammar Youssef, an economic expert, told Xinhua.

However, Youssef drew a dimmer picture for 2021, saying that the economic hardship in 2020 has signalled a tougher year ahead unless Syria gets real help from friendly countries.

“Unfortunately, 2021 will be worse than 2020 due to the economic collapses that have taken place in 2020, which paved the way for a much worse economic scenario in 2021 unless there is an effective and swift handling of the situation, with the help of allies and friendly countries,” he said.

Syrian doctors and medical workers also experienced a hard year in 2020, as they struggled to combat the COVID-19 pandemic, which added a heavy burden on the already weak medical sector that has taken a strong beating during the Syrian war.

Tarek al-Abd, a physician, told Xinhua that the medical workers in Syria have exerted tremendous efforts in 2020 to save lives from the pandemic, but they would have lived an easier life if the public had enough vigilance against the risks of the pandemic.

“I can say that 2020 was a tough and bad year for us, as we exerted tremendous efforts but the public’s reactions weren’t up to the challenge,” he said.

But Al-Abd said that 2021 should be better in terms of fighting the pandemic as the Syrian doctors have acquired experience in dealing with the virus.

“In 2021, Syria is supposed to learn from previous tough experiences that we have gone through in 2020,” he said.

Syrian doctors have accumulated more experiences in dealing with COVID-19 cases, including how to categorize mild, medium, and hard cases and who can be treated at home.

“We can deal with cases regardless of their locations across Syria,” he said. Enditem

 

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