The suffering of Syrian’s in the areas outside of the government’s control keeps increasing in all aspects of life and its needs, especially with the increase of unemployment to more than 55% “according to local research centers”, accompanied with a crazy rise in the prices of basic life needs which people had to secure by abandoning some unnecessities by selling them for low prices to secure food which its continuity has become a faraway dream for more than 70% of the people in the north of Syria (Hamah countryside, Idlib, Aleppo countryside).
With the arrival of the eighth winter under the war that tore the country and exhausted its people, what worries them is how to secure the fuel needed for warming the cold which might last for more than 5 months according to the situation of the weather and how cold it gets, the matter of securing fuel for the heaters in this bad economy situation has become the main problem for all families, so, what caused heating to be such a massive problem in Syria? And what are the major ways for heating?
Aleppo peanut shells:
After eight years of the events in Syria, new ways of heating have emerged, invented by the Syrians to cope up with the current situation and different from the traditional ways that used to exist before 2011 which depended on electricity and petrol.
Electricity which the people of North Syria have lost since 2014 after the power plant of Zizon has stopped working due to the bombing of the regime, and the raids of the groups of “Turkstan” and “Hay’at Tahrir Al-Sham”, which made it worse and more tragic after losing the main power source in the north of Syria.
Maybe one of the most popular ways of heating was by using Aleppo peanut shells, this method originated from the north of Hamah, from the city of “Murak”, and has proven effective among the middle class. The mentioned material is the shell of Aleppo peanuts which are grown by the locals, then are peeled by special machines that separate the shells from the peanuts which are sold separately, for the shells to remain and used later for heating.
Where the price of 1kg of Aleppo peanut shells was 1 Lira back in 2014, it increased to reach 10 Liras in 2017, and the price of 1 ton is more than 100 dollars this year, in addition to the price of the special oven that uses the shells which cost a total of 150$ in the current year.
About the use of Aleppo peanut shells, the family needs 2 tons a month which cost 200$, or 350$ for the whole period of winter, in addition to the price of the heating machine, according to Ahmed Al-Nazim, owner of a peeling machine and a supervisor on the sale of the shells.
The second material used for heating, the seller “Ramez Al-Elian” says: “Charcoal which spread since 2016 in the north of Syria, especially in Idlib countryside and 30% of population have become dependent on it, maybe the biggest reason for its use is the strong relations between Syrians and the Turkish people who greatly depend on it for heating.”
The price of one bag of charcoal in Syria, weighing 25kg, is 3$ and is enough for two days of normal cold weather, and an average of 15 bags a months, the cost of 45$ and 225$ for the whole winter, not to mention the charcoal fireplace which cost up to 100$, meaning that a family needs 325$ to be able to protect itself from the cold of the winter.
Firewood in all its types (Olive, Walnut, Oak, Madrones, Cupressus( , that are available in the mountains of Lattakia which is under the control of the opposition, Firewood has taken the biggest rule in the life of Syrians after 2011, for then, only a few used firewood for heating, those who lived in the mountains of Lattakia on their both sides, benefiting from its low price before the events in Syria. Those events that forced 50% of the residents to depend on Firewood, which resulted the massive decrease in forests, where the areas of forests decreased to 75% between the years of 2011 and 2018 due to the excessive demand for firewood which cost 150$ per ton, While a family needs 2-3 tons during the winter, the advantage of firewood is that it can be lit using any fireplace, and its price is between 15$ to 100$.
But the groups that control Lattakia mountains prevented sellers from cutting down trees to make firewood except through them, and imposed taxes where sellers have to pay 20$ for every ton of firewood, which played a part in the increase of the price of the ton which did not exceed 50$ a ton before imposing the taxes, the most famous of these groups are “Turkstan” and “Hay’at Tahrir Al-Sham”, who seized many trucks until the taxes are paid, and established points of sale to sell firewood with large quantities which made it even harder to get firewood and increased its cost according to “Ghaiath Zlieto”, a firewood seller.
After the control of the different opposition groups on oil fields, modern refineries stopped, which forced the people in charge to use alternative, cheap method to refine oil, which affected the quality of diesel and its types, for now there are different types of diesel with different prices (Honey for 100$ a barrel, Black for 90$ a barrel, Red for 100$ a barrel). But all the above are not used for heating due to its bad smell and freezing tendencies in the oven at winter time, locals use a diesel type called “Romylan” which price is 120$ a barrel this year, unlike previous years where its price exceeded 200$ when the Kurds used to control Efrien road which got closed for long periods because of the war between the Kurds and the Turkish army, which lead to the increase of its price.
A family consumes between 2.5 to 3 barrels in winter, depending on the condition of the weather, whilst diesel heating is still less than firewood, charcoal and peanut shells.
Finally, Animal Waste
Using animal waste for heating was due to the deterioration of economic and living conditions of the people in the north of Syria, for only 30% cannot afford buying the mentioned products and seek more affordable products even if they were harmful to the health, forced to that by weak economic conditions and poverty.
Those people went to use different methods, some spend the summer in collecting animal waste then form them in disks that can be stored away from the rain, what is interesting is that cow manure can be found being sold in some villages in Hamah northern countryside for a price of 25 liras for a disk, which means that poor families will no longer be able to afford it as it is now competing in the heating materials market and now costs 100$ for heating in winter despite of its health problems, which Dr. Ahmed Al-Asmar speaks about, saying “It leads to lung infections.” And affirming that he and his colleagues have had over 100 cases in the north of Syria in less than 2 months, most of them were kids that suffer from breathing problems and acute infections of the respiratory airways.
Who controls the basic heating materials?
It is no secret that opposition groups are the main controller of the heating market, then come the local sellers.
On the west of the opposition areas, “Turkstan” and “Hay’at Tahrir Al-Sham” control the sources of firewood and impose high taxes on whomever wants to buy it and puts barricades on the roads known as “firewood roads”, those barricades include a person that estimates the quantity and imposes a tax on the ton, or kilogram, depending on the volume of load in the car. It seems that those barricades belong to certain people inside of these groups to collect their taxes and build their own fortune, according to activists from “Gisr Al-Shoghour” area.
In the west was ISIS, then Syrian Democratic Forces, while the price of diesel barrel is doubled many times than its price inside of Raqqa, where diesel is sold for 70 liras a liter, but taxes are imposed on diesel tanks headed towards Idlib and Hamah countryside areas, where the price of the liter reaches 200 liras, not to mention the greed of the sellers who make up waves of product monopoly to raise their profits to many doubles. While what happened in 2017 is the best example of monopoly, when the sellers monopolized the diesel at the beginning of winter, which lead to a crazy increase in the prices up to 600 liras for a liter at the time it is most needed by the locals.
This led some people to ask about where was the role of the controlling groups, or the security forces to force the seller to lower the prices that skyrocketed! But the answer was clear inside of the civilians in the north, and it is that sellers would not have monopolized if they were not the security forces themselves, which is apparent when Tahrir Al-Sham came to establish sales points to sell fuels in Idlib.
Charcoal is being imported by merchants from Turkey through Bab Al-Hawa border crossing which is control by Hay’at Tahrir Al-Sham, and imposes taxes on imported goods without any care to the great poverty in Syria which almost kills any form of life.
What did the humanitarian organizations offer as alternative sources of heating?
In that field, the activist Kutaiba Al-Zahory assured that the relief and humanitarian efforts are so little, for some organizations like “Qatar Red Crescent” supported families by providing 100 liters of diesel to each family for the next two years in some areas, and for some certain classes of locals while the governmental or organizational support is absent to help them fight the winter cold which has become along with Assad’s regime partners in killing them, not to mention that some groups established some programs to provide heating fuel to their members, leaving civilians suffering from the cold of the winter, and the darkness of its nights.
The activist Ali Abu Al-Farouq said that the organizations and governments in the north of Syria did not succeed in other life fields, so it is no wonder how the situation of heating is now, for the areas in Hamah governorate which are under their control since 2014 did not witness any activities aiming to support the citizens with heating projects except for when the Syrian Red Crescent that come from the regime areas in 2016, offered the winter needs from covers, blankets and cloths on three stages. He then adds “More than 80% of Hamah countryside today is under the line of poverty as a result of the wars that destroyed all the infrastructure, even schools which are in a dire need for heating which students suffer from its absence, for how can a student learn while he is freezing from the cold?”
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