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Bottom Drops Out Of Syria's Currency Causing Economic Hardship


As if Syria did not have enough problems, the value of its currency is plunging. NPR's Alice Fordham reports on what it means.

ALICE FORDHAM, BYLINE: The Syrian pound is slumping rapidly against the dollar. This is bad news for President Bashar al-Assad because it means even in his stronghold - the capital Damascus - inflation is bad. NPR spoke with one mom there, too scared of the regime to give her name or be recorded. Her government-employed husband makes a bit more than a hundred dollars a month, and the inflation means a box of 30 eggs now costs the equivalent of $4. So times are tough. Someone who really knows the Syrian pound is Abdullah Dardari. He's with the U.N. in Beirut, but he used to be Assad's economy chief. He says things are indeed dire.

ABDULLAH DARDARI: I think survival and survival tactics of ordinary Syrians are running out of new ways of managing.

FORDHAM: One reason for the currency collapse is a lack of confidence because Assad has lost a lot of ground to rebels in the last month. Other reasons are purely economic. Syria...

DARDARI: Is a country that has lost around 50 to 55 percent of its GDP in just four years.

FORDHAM: Exports probably are under 20 percent of what they were before the war. Rebels recently captured a key border crossing. Economists think dollar reserves are long since spent. In fact, Dardari says, the question is really why didn't the pound collapse long ago? And the answer is probably Iranian support.

DARDARI: There must have been flows into the Syrian central bank in the billions of dollars in the last few years.

FORDHAM: The British economist David Butter pointed out that back in 2013 when the pound was floundering, Iran publicly announced $2 billion in credit. Now, although there's been a number of high-level meetings between Syrian and Iranian finance officials, there's been no announcement. In fact, last week, Iran's deputy foreign minister, Amir Abdollahian, told a Syrian delegation to follow the example of Iran and achieve self-reliance through a resistance economy. Alice Fordham, NPR News, Beirut. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Alice Fordham is an NPR International Correspondent based in Beirut, Lebanon.