News / Economy

Doubt Over Syrian Steps to Control Hyperinflation

The Syrian pound is plunging in value on the black market, trading this past week for more than 300 to a U.S. dollar.
The Syrian pound is plunging in value on the black market, trading this past week for more than 300 to a U.S. dollar.
The Syrian government is moving to shore up the value of its free-falling currency, imposing harsh penalties on black-market dealing in foreign currencies.
 
Economists, however, predict the rescue effort won’t halt the currency’s plunge as evidence mounts that the war-battered Syria is now in the grip of hyperinflation.
 
Penalties for dealing in foreign currencies include substantial fines and prison terms of up to 10 years – necessary punishments, the government said this week, to “prevent manipulation of prices in the market and curb exploitation of citizens’ needs.”
 
But Steve Hanke, an economics professor at The Johns Hopkins University, warns the measures are unlikely to stop the currency’s free fall, or prevent Syrians anxious to protect their savings from converting them to U.S. dollars. He says the government’s rescue attempt is “futile and wrong-headed.”
 
“This strategy proved wildly unsuccessful when it was utilized by the Iran in October of 2012 to protect its troubled currency,” he says. “People will do everything they can to get around the restrictions.”
 
With the 28-month-long civil war and international economic sanctions wreaking havoc on the country’s economy Syrians are facing a bleak Ramadan, the Islamic holy month that started this week, as they scramble to come up with ways to pay for food and shelter.
 
Plunging on the black market
 
On the black market the value of the country’s currency has hit an all time low, with the exchange rate now ranging from 300 to 310 Syrian pounds to the U.S. dollar. Before the uprising began against President Bashar al-Assad’s government in March 2011, the rate was 50 pounds to the dollar.
 
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's government is trying to shore up the currency in the midst of a civil war.Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's government is trying to shore up the currency in the midst of a civil war.
x
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's government is trying to shore up the currency in the midst of a civil war.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's government is trying to shore up the currency in the midst of a civil war.
For ordinary Syrians, just getting by has become a nearly impossible task in the face of wildly rising prices for basic goods.
 
“My salary of 20,000 pounds doesn’t stretch enough to keep us from going hungry,” says Mustafa, a father of four and government worker in Damascus who talked with VOA by phone. “Our savings have long gone.”
 
Hanke, an internationally noted expert on troubled currencies, says the plight of ordinary Syrians will get worse.
 
He believes the Assad government has lost control of the official currency and that Syria has gone from suffering galloping inflation to hyperinflation. In the absence of reliable economic data from the Syrian government, Hanke bases his assertion on a set of complex economic calculations to estimate price shifts.
 
“Syria’s implied monthly inflation rate is now 91.9 percent. This means that Syria has exceeded the threshold for hyperinflation -- an inflation rate of 50 percent per month,” he says.
 
Hyperinflation and currency collapse
 
The 20th century saw a total of 28 hyperinflations, nearly all caused by monetary collapse following the two world wars or the fall of communism.
 
The most infamous case of hyperinflation was during the Weimar Republic in Germany in the 1920s, which was triggered by First World War debt. The monthly inflation rate peaked at 32,400 percent.
 
So far his century, there has been only one other case of hyperinflation – Zimbabwe’s from 2004 to 2008. That was sparked by the government printing money to pay for a war in the Congo and then compounded by droughts and farm confiscations. The inflation rate was 98 percent a day. It ended when Zimbabweans in effect ditched the local currency and traded instead in foreign banknotes.
 
“When you are in hyperinflation the local currency becomes in effect useless,” says Hanke. “You have to unload the local currency as quick as you can, within hours and not just days or even weeks as with inflation. In hyperinflation everything is speeded up.”
 
In the 1990s, as a result of a civil war, Serbia witnessed a staggering hyperinflation that at its peak reached a monthly rate of 313 million percent. Efforts by the Assad government’s closest ally, Iran, to assist with credit lines and loans of billions of dollars, plus foreign assistance from Russia, is saving Syria from Serbian-style inflation. But Hanke says Assad’s allies will have to dig deeper.
 
Crop failure
 
“The worst case scenario is if Syria has another very bad season with agriculture. They had one last year because of a drought. And this year they have problems because the farmers aren’t getting out to the fields as much,” said Hanke.
 
“So that would be one thing that would aggravate the hyperinflation very much. And if government expenditures are retained at high levels, you’ll end up with more obligations on the Central Bank to print money,” he said.
 
The Assad government appears to be trying to cut spending. This week it announced price increases for medicines and said it had sacked hundreds of workers, claiming the firings were part of an anti-corruption drive. It has also lifted a ban on the U.N. World Food Program bringing in medicines, according to senior U.N. officials.
 
Kadri Jamil, Syria’s deputy prime minister for economic affairs, claims the U.S. and Britain have fomented his country’s economic woes through international economic sanctions. Those sanctions aside, the civil war’s effects inside the country have been devastating: towns and cities have been pummeled into ruins, industrial infrastructure destroyed and thousands of factories abandoned.
 
Oil production, one of Syria’s biggest foreign currency earners, has dropped by 95 percent. Tourism -- another foreign currency mainstay --  has ground to a total halt. The World Bank says Syria’s GDP dropped almost by a third in 2012.

You May Like

Karzai's Legacy: Missed Opportunities?

Afghanistan's president leaves behind a much different nation than the one he inherited, yet his legacy from 13 years in power is getting mixed reviews More

Video Secret Service Chief Under Fire for White House Security Breach

Julia Pierson faces tough questions from lawmakers after recent intrusion at White House, says: 'It is clear that our security plan was not executed properly' More

Frustrated, Liberian Students Want Ebola Fight Role

Thousands have volunteered to go to counties, rural villages to talk to people in their language about deadly virus More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Anonymous
July 13, 2013 1:17 AM
They should arrest assad for his crimes first for murdering tens of thousands of civilians, then the new government decides the fate of those that deal in foreign currencies. I don't think the so called Syrian government should be working on anything else but packing their bags.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Malaysia Struggles to Stop People Joining Jihadi
X
Mahi Ramakrishnan
September 30, 2014 2:16 PM
Malaysian authorities say militant groups like the so-called "Islamic State" have used social media to entice at least three dozen Malaysian Muslims to fight in what they call "jihad" in Syria and Iraq. As Mahi Ramkrishnan reports from Kuala Lumpur, counterterrorism police are deeply worried about what could happen when these militants return home.
Video

Video Malaysia Struggles to Stop People Joining Jihad

Malaysian authorities say militant groups like the so-called "Islamic State" have used social media to entice at least three dozen Malaysian Muslims to fight in what they call "jihad" in Syria and Iraq. As Mahi Ramkrishnan reports from Kuala Lumpur, counterterrorism police are deeply worried about what could happen when these militants return home.
Video

Video Could US Have Done More to Stop Rise of Islamic State?

President Obama says airstrikes against Islamic State militants in Syria will likely continue for some time because, in his words, "there is a cancer that has grown for too long." So what if President Obama had acted sooner in Syria to arm more-moderate opponents of both the Islamic State and the Syrian government? VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports from the United Nations.
Video

Video Treasure Hunters Seek 'Hidden Treasure' in Central Kenya

Could a cave in a small village in central Kenya be the site of buried treasure? A rumor of riches, left behind by colonialists, has some residents dreaming of wealth, while others see it as a dangerous hoax. VOA's Gabe Joselow has the story.
Video

Video Iran's Rouhani Skeptical on Syria Strikes

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani expressed skepticism Friday that U.S.-led airstrikes in Iraq and Syria could crush Islamic State militants. From New York, VOA’s Margaret Besheer reports the president was also hopeful that questions about Iran’s nuclear program could be resolved soon.
Video

Video US House Speaker: Congress Should Debate Authorization Against IS

As wave after wave of U.S. airstrikes target Islamic State militants, the speaker of the Republican-controlled House of Representatives says he would be willing to call Congress back into session to debate a formal, broad authorization for the use of military force. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports from Washington, where legislators left town 10 days ago for a seven-week recess.
Video

Video Ebola Patients Find No Treatment at Sierra Leone Holding Center

At a holding facility in Makeni, central Sierra Leone, dozens of sick people sit on the floor in an empty university building. They wait in filthy conditions. It's a 16-hour drive by ambulance to Kailahun Ebola treatment center. Adam Bailes was there and reports on what he says are some of the worst situations he has seen since the beginning of this Ebola outbreak. And he says it appears case numbers may already be far worse than authorities acknowledge.
Video

Video Identifying Bodies Found in Texas Border Region

Thousands of immigrants have died after crossing the border from Mexico into remote areas of the southwestern United States in recent years. Local officials in south Texas alone have found hundreds of unidentified bodies and buried them in mass graves in local cemeteries. Now an anthropologist and her students at Baylor University have been exhuming bodies and looking for clues to identify them. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from Waco, Texas.
Video

Video Ebola Robs Liberians of Chance to Say Good-Bye to Loved Ones

In Liberia, where Ebola has killed more than 1,500 people, authorities have worked hard to convince people to allow specialized burial teams to take away dead bodies. But these safety measures, while necessary, make it hard for people to say good bye to their loved ones. VOA's Anne Look reports on the tragedy from Liberia.
Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.

AppleAndroid

World Currencies

EUR
USD
0.7866
JPY
USD
109.25
GBP
USD
0.6139
CAD
USD
1.1120
INR
USD
61.428

Rates may not be current.