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Shortages of food, fuel, power as Syria battered by war

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

"Yesterday I did not make anything to eat as there was no electricity for the entire day," says Umm Fadi, a resident of Artuz district near Damascus that has been caught up in the fighting between rebels and regime forces.

Like most Syrians, the mother of four faces a shortage of oil and gas and has to resort to cooking on a wood fire or, when there is power, an electric stove.

"A gas cylinder costs 3,500 (Syrian) pounds (49 dollars) and there is no oil... we have to wait for two or three hours patiently just to buy bread," she says with a sigh.

Another resident, 35-year-old Bilal, also expresses frustration.

"The price of gas has risen tenfold. Oil, if you can find it, is twice as expensive as it used to be. Prices are simply exorbitant, plus one has to wait for hours in queues," he says, lamenting the "unbearable" living conditions.

The situation in Artuz is but a reflection of Syria's dire economic crisis caused by an uprising against President Bashar al-Assad that started on March 15, 2011 and later turned into full-scale civil war which according to the United Nations has left more than 70,000 people dead.

In the past few months, Assad's regime has hiked prices of essential commodities such as flour by 140 percent, gasoline by 62 percent and oil by 106 percent.

The country's agricultural production, meanwhile, has halved due to the conflict, says the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation, calling for emergency aid for the sector that offers livelihood to about eight million people.

Production of wheat and barley has dropped to less than two million tonnes from 4-4.5 million tonnes before the uprising began, the UN body says.

Salma, 57, a former secretary, queues during the night in order to be able to refuel her car or to get a full gas cylinder, waiting for hours at army controlled checkpoints.

Even this, says the married woman whose children have left the country to work in the Gulf, is "bearable".

-- Fear is palpable --

But when it comes to violence near the capital, her fear is palpable. "The worst is yet to come," she says.

From the balcony of her home near Abbasid square on the edge of Damascus, she can see clouds of black smoke.

"The rebels are at Jobar, two kilometres (just over a mile) away," she says.

"We hear gunfire and explosions all through the day and they are coming closer. People are hiding in their homes."

Last Wednesday, Abu Mohammad went to buy fruit and vegetables at a market in east Damascus.

"Suddenly there was shelling, we fled like rats. I was scared," he says.

Since July the army has been bombing suburbs of Damascus which are now rebel strongholds, especially in a belt known as Eastern Ghouta.

Similar shortages exist across the country, with life becoming a daily battle for survival for many Syrians.

In Aleppo, an economic powerhouse in northern Syria before it was engulfed by war in the summer of 2012, "the lack of electricity is our biggest problem with power available for only two hours a day," complains Eugenie, 50, whose house is in the army controlled area of Aziziye.

On the other hand Umm Hassan, a resident of rebel controlled Massaken Hanano district of east Aleppo, has had no power since the fighting began.

"The electricity has been cut off for months. I have forgotten that washing machines and refrigerators exist," she says.

Like many in Aleppo, she uses electricity from the battery of her husband's car to light a few lamps in her home.

The majority of people in Aleppo are now living in poverty, with economic activity at a standstill following the closure of factories that were once symbols of a prosperous city.

Mohammad now sells grilled meat on a handcart near the university after he exhausted all his savings.

"I have become a vendor," says the tall, thin man who once owned an iron works that employed 13 workers.

"I have to try somehow to earn a living."

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130310/shortages-food-fuel-power-syria-battered-war