Syria facing worsening shortages, rations gasoline for first time in history

Long queues are obstructing traffic in the city of Damascus, as the Syrian government begins to ration gasoline for the first time in the country’s history. The government has introduced a new “Smart Card”, fixing consumption at 450 liters of gasoline per month for every automobile, no matter the size. As of this month, only smart card holders will be able to fill up their cars at the current price of gasoline, which is 4,500 Syrian pounds per tank ($9 USD). Although this rate is subsidized by the state, it marks a 1,000% increase from the pre-2011 cost, when gasoline tanks could be filled for just 500 Syrian pounds.


Before the war, 500 Syrian pounds was equivalent to $10, so the price of a tank in terms of foreign currency has scarcely changed. However, the population still make their living in Syrian pounds, not US dollars. What once was an affordable cost is now out of the reach of many. Moreover, gasoline was always available in a country that produced 385,000 barrels of oil per day.

Those who do not obtain a Smart Card (which is free) or fail to renew it periodically will have to purchase gas at a so-called “free rate” that is yet to be set by Syrian authorities but is expected to be double the current price.

Gas station gunplay

The Smart Card has triggered ridicule and spite among Syrians who feel that the state is only complicating their lives and adding insult to injury with its ill management of economic affairs. But people are nonetheless working to get hold of them.

“My neighbor waited for 6-hours to get her card” said Ibtissam, a resident of the West Mezzeh district of Damascus, where one of the new smart card offices is located. “I paid one of the local janitors 10,000 Syrian pounds ($20) to stand in line on my behalf. I have work and cannot afford such a wait; I am already spending long hours at the gas station.”

Syrian actors responded with a short comedy in mid-February, currently going viral on social media networks, depicting characters with smart cards for tomatoes, coffee, and even for hookahs (water pipes). The sketch wrapped up with a scene showing a patient at a hospital in Damascus, denied medical assistance because he did not have a “smart card for oxygen.”

The smart card is only the latest attempt by the Syrian authorities to combat gasoline shortages resulting from losses of territory, mismanagement, and international sanctions. Syria was slapped with European Union sanctions eight years ago, and in November of last year, felt the impact of US sanctions on Iran, its sole wartime supplier of gasoline.

In early 2017, Syrian Prime Minister Imad Khamis tried to counter the crisis by forcing the public sector to reduce its consumption of gasoline by 50%. Exceptions were given only to ambulances and vehicles operated by the Ministry of Defense.

Back then, gas station entry was regulated, with special days for odd numbered license plates, and others for even numbers. That did not work, due to the high number of people who refused to go away—regardless of their license plates—threatening gas station attendants with guns. The same scene is re-emerging today, as soldiers try to regulate gas stations, authorized to arrest attendants who fill up cars whose owners do not have a no smart card.

Security raises demand

The petroleum industry was once the pride and joy of the Syrian economy, and Syrians never experienced a chronic gas crisis. In 2010, oil sales generated $3.2 billion for the Syrian government, accounting to 25% of state revenue.

Over the course of the war that broke out in 2011, various armed factions seized control of key oil installations in the eastern provinces. The Islamic State group (ISIS) seized control of much of the country’s oil fields and used oil revenues to prop up its rule. But as the extremist group was forced to retreat, its militants burned oil fields in their wake, while others were bombed by US-led air strikes.

By 2016, production had fallen to less than 0.05% of earlier levels. While the physical rule of ISIS is now down to a limited pocket of territory, it will take years to repair damaged installations. Production is currently at an all-time low of 14,000 barrels per day, which does not even meet domestic needs. READ THE REST OF THE INTERESTING ARTICLE HERE