To inform humanitarian cash programming, REACH in partnership with the northeast (NES) and northwest (NWS) Syria Cash Working Group (CWG) conducts monthly Market Monitoring Exercises in northern Syria to assess the availability and prices of 36 basic commodities that are typically sold in markets and consumed by average Syrian households, including food and non-food items, water, fuel, and cellphone data.
Of these, 18 items comprise the Survival Minimum Expenditure Basket (SMEB; see below), which represents the minimum, culturally adjusted items required to support a 6-person household for a month.
Data collection took place between 1-8th March 2021 and was conducted by Care Shafak, GOAL, People In Need, Syrian Association for Relief and Development (SARD), Solidarités International, Violet, NRC and REACH.
The accompanying data is disseminated monthly and is distributed through partners across the humanitarian community. See REACH Resource Centre for the March 2021 data.
Coverage and data collection dates
In March 2021, REACH and partners covered 26 sub-districts and 2,343 individual shops in northwest Syria (NWS) for the Market Monitoring Exercise. In light of the fluctuation of the Syrian Pound (SYP)’s value and resulting market disruption, prices in the Market Monitoring dataset and output should be seen as representative only of the markets and dates where and when information was collected (1-8th March).
Highest northwest SMEB SYP cost recorded; SMEB USD cost slightly decreased
In March, the value of the regional Survival Minimum Expenditure Basket (SMEB) reached 422,032 SYP, a 21% increase compared to February and an 85% long-term increase since September 2020, setting a new record for the highest ever recorded price in the Market Monitoring Exercise in NWS. The SMEB in United States Dollar (USD) decreased slightly from 116 USD in February to 113 USD in March alongside a slight depreciation of the SYP against the USD (see next paragraph).
Depreciation of the SYP against the USD
In March, the informal USD/SYP regional median exchange rate increased by 2% since February and reached a regional median of 3,726 USD/SYP. The six-month change, a 75% increase since September 2020, highlights that the value of the SYP remains an unstable currency against the USD. The highest exchange rate was recorded at 3,925 SYP to 1 USD in Ma’arrat Tamasrin community in Idleb governorate.
Fuel prices further increased
At the regional level, overall prices for transport fuels increased by 30% between February and March, with a median price of 2,425 SYP per litre. Less expensive, manually refined fuels, including petrol and kerosene showed rising prices and remained largely unavailable in NWS due to low levels of import, caused by the devaluation of the SYP and the Turkish lira (TRY) against the dollar. Incidents in and around refineries further reduced the availability of manually refined fuels, according to REACH field teams. For example, 75% of surveyed fuel vendors reported that manually refined petrol was not available in their market at the time of data collection. With the significant unavailability of lower quality but less expensive fuels, prices for high quality diesel and petrol (largely European fuels imported via Turkey) continued increasing in February, driven both by increasing demand as well as by fluctuating exchange rates of both the SYP and the TRY against the USD. The price of high quality diesel increased by 29%. High quality petrol increased by 31% in price.
Continued increase of food item prices
The cost of the regional SMEB food component reached 293,525 SYP in March, a 20% increase since February and a 84% increase since September 2020. The fresh food/vegetable component of the SMEB increased by 19% in price since February. The price of cucumbers increased by 10%, potatoes increased by 29%, green peas increased by 20%, onions by 15% and tomatoes by 23%, contributing to a 243% price increase for the fresh vegetable component since September 2020. According to REACH field teams, this trend is primarily a result of the high costs of transportation and import; such as increasing transport fuel prices and crossing fees imposed by authorities, as well as the further depreciation of the SYP.
Bulk food prices also increased by 22% overall since February, again due to the higher cost of imported items, rising fuel costs, and unstable exchange rates against the USD. REACH field teams also reported that this trend may be due to the insufficient supply of bulk/dried food distributions by organizations, in addition to the reliance on imported products from Turkey due to low domestic production capabilities. The price of bread (bag of 8 pieces) also increased by 25% since February, reaching a regional median of 1,000 SYP. Increasing bread prices are primarily due to a similar rise in the price of flour (25% increase since February), a product which is in short local supply in the region and for which import prices are dependent on fluctuating exchange rates. Additionally, high prices were also recorded for other SMEB food items such as chicken, the price of which increased by 23% since February and has increased by 102% since September 2020, due to a combination of factors including SYP depreciation, the high costs of transportation and poultry feed. For similar reasons, the price of eggs increased by 6% since February and 52% since September 2020.
Rising cost of cooking oils and cooking fuels
In addition to the rising cost of food items themselves, additional items that are necessary for the preparation and cooking of raw food also increased in price. Median regional prices for vegetable oil and ghee, both commonly used for cooking, rose by 35% and 30% respectively between February and March, continuing a significant upward trend. Both commodities are largely imported into NWS and, therefore, subject to exchange rate fluctuations and border crossing fees. The cost of fuels used for cooking increased over this one-month period by 32%, whereas the median price of manually refined kerosene increased by 25% and liquid petroleum gas (LPG) increased by 23%. As reported above, manually refined kerosene is often unavailable in many markets of NWS (reported as unavailable by 53% of surveyed fuel vendors in March), leading consumers in NWS to rely more heavily on the use of LPG for cooking purposes.