“In order to attenuate the disastrous effects of the bread embargo, some families also tried to mix the bread dough with products from the aid packages they had received before the truce agreement was suspended – such as rice, beans and pasta. That way, the flour they have would last longer.”
Al-Waʿr Residents Resort to “Cooperative” Bakeries to Face Siege
The residents of the opposition-held neighbourhood of al-Waʿr resort to innovative alternative solutions to cope with failed UN-brokered truce and reimposed siege.
(Al-Waʿr, Homs, Syria) The bread embargo imposed by the Syrian regime in the opposition-held neighbourhood of al-Waʿr in western Homs entered its second consecutive month following the suspension of the truce agreement which was concluded on 5 December 2015 between the reconciliation committee representing the neighbourhood residents and the regime.
According to the agreement, the Syrian authorities were supposed to reveal the situation of their detainees in exchange for a group of opposition militants leaving the neighbourhood. However, Majd ʿAli, a member of the al-Waʿr committee, said that the regime refrained from fulfilling this part of the deal later on, as it denied having detained such a large number of people whose names were included in the list submitted by the reconciliation committee.
“The regime is rushing into implementing the agreement by accumulating profits and dodging commitments. It is trying to bargain with us basic humanitarian needs to gain political and military profits,” Majd ʿAli told Good Morning Syria.
Meanwhile, the Syrian regime and its allies justify the reimposed siege, affirming that the armed opposition groups did not leave the neighbourhood as agreed. Russian media outlets also stated that al-Waʿr snipers targeted civilians in the neighbouring village of al-Mazraʿah on 10 May 2016.
For his part, Rami al-Husni, a member of the Union of Relief Committees in al-Waʿr, said that regime forces had banned bread from entering the neighbourhood since 12 March for the first time in three years, although bread had always been exempted in the siege imposed on the 75,000 to 100,000 residents.
“After having allowed 9,500 packs of bread into the neighbourhood every day, the regime now allows 1,000 packs – an average of one loaf per family – which is one-tenth of the region’s daily need,” Rami added.
For this reason, the checkpoint at the government-run bakery located at the western neighbourhood entrance, facing the Military Academy, which is the only partly open way for employees and students, is witnessing daily gatherings of large numbers of people, mostly women and children, who stand there for long hours, hoping to receive a piece of bread. When fortune does not smile on them, they try to implore one of the employees coming into the neighbourhood to split their only share of bread with them.
“We used to rely on bread as an alternative for other banned food products, but we never expected to reach this stage of hunger, begging at the bakery checkpoint or pleading bread distributors to give us a single loaf!” said Umm ʿAdnan while smelling a fresh pita, her prize for the day which she received from one of the neighbourhood’s employees.
At first, the local residents attempted to overcome this crisis by devising alternative solutions. They thus established “cooperative” bakeries (griddles and tandoors) that used firewood at several locations in the neighbourhood, based on an agreement between families and bakers. Accordingly, each family provides the flour dough – at 200 SYP (almost 0.3 USD in the black market) for a kilogramme of flour – which the baker uses to make fresh bread.
The average family consumption is roughly two kilogrammes of flour per day, so each household has to pay 400 SYP (almost 0.6 USD) in exchange for bread, which is eight times the cost of the government-subsidised bread pack (50 SYP, around 0.08 USD) that covers the same average consumption.
As for the people who run out of flour, they have to purchase it on their own at double its actual price in the city of Homs, which further complicates the situation. The hike in prices is actually due to the fact that flour is only available in some storerooms where merchants stocked large quantities of it after the first phase of the truce (from 5 to 15 December 2015), while food products were still allowed. These merchants now sell these goods at high prices, exploiting people’s needs under the new siege.
In order to attenuate the disastrous effects of the bread embargo, some families also tried to mix the bread dough with products from the aid packages they had received before the truce agreement was suspended – such as rice, beans and pasta. That way, the flour they have – estimated at 40 kg per family and which they received as part of the distributed aid – would last longer.
However, as the crisis continued and aid was blocked, people were caught in a difficult situation once they began running out of stock. “The estimates of the Relief Union’s bureau indicate that most families have entirely run out of flour, which portends a hunger disaster, possibly worse than Madaya’s,” warned Rami, the Union of Relief Committees member.
“We would have endured the situation if it was just us here… But the children can’t understand. They’re always crying and asking for a sandwich,” explained Umm ʿAmer while preparing a sandwich made of plain haricot dough for her hungry child.
On May 5, UN relief convoys tried to enter al-Waʿr as per the previous truce agreement, but the regime issued an order preventing them from entering the region amidst local disappointment. The neighbourhood’s women protested in the street leading to the local council’s sharia committee, demanding a solution, but the committee’s directors managed to calm temporarily the protesters, promising them to achieve good results within the few following days.
In the same context, activists in the northern countryside of Homs announced a hunger strike on May 10 in solidarity with the besieged residents of al-Waʿr.