Friday, 25 April 2008

Syria— cuts in fuel subsidies

The Institute for War & Peace Reporting reports on fuel cuts in Syria:

The Syrian government is introducing rationing for the heating oil it makes available at subsidised prices. The move has been met by some criticism, but comes in the face of the rising cost of oil imports, and smuggling which is siphoning off much of the cut-price kerosene to other countries.

The scheme represents the first stage of a plan by the ministry of economy and trade to phase out subsidies for all petroleum products in the next five years.

Syrians are now lining up to collect the vouchers that will entitle each family to 1,000 litres of subsidised kerosene for the year. The government plans to distribute vouchers to 5.1 million families by April 26.

The government says 1,000 litres of heating oil should be enough to get people through even a cold winter. Oil minister Sufian al-Alaw said in a statement that 77 percent of families use less than that amount in the course of a year.

A litre of kerosene currently costs about 7.20 lira, about 14 US cents. The government has not yet announced what the fuel will cost under the new scheme.

Male heads of household, widows with children, and the oldest sons in orphaned families are allowed to claim vouchers, and there has been a storm of criticism from women’s rights activists who questioned why divorced, unmarried or widowed women living alone should be excluded.

“That is blatantly discriminatory against women, and it’s an irresponsible decision," said one women’s activist.

University students, too, are complaining that they are not entitled to any subsidised fuel even if they live far from the family home.

In the rural Al-Tal area outside Damascus, one resident said people there needed more heating oil than the average.

“The weather is very cold,” he said. “We definitely use more kerosene than people who live in the city of Damascus."

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