This is the first of two interviews asking the same questions of a resident of Damascus, and just a few kilometers away, a resident of the Ghouta suburbs.
In Damascus and the surrounding areas where neighboring suburbs have been turned into longstanding war fronts, the difference between a few kilometers can mean the difference between food security and starvation, warmth and frostbite.
The war is draining Syria’s resources, even in regime-held areas such as the capital.
Earlier this month the Syrian ministry of electricity announced that 32 of the original 54 electric turbines are offline due to a lack of fuel, despite the fact that they are ready to run. Before that, the government increased the cost of diesel. Water shortages are also prominent in the capital.
Despite the shortages, the Syrian government has managed to maintain most of the social services inside of Damascus, says a Damascus-based member of the pro-opposition Damascus Media Office.
But those prices are expensive and they do not match average salaries, the activist tells Syria Direct.
The activist asked to remain anonymous out fear for his safety, and did not wish to disclose his exact location in regime-controlled Damascus.
“Checkpoints are everywhere,” he says, and by 9:30pm, “the streets are empty.”
Q: How do people feel about the services provided by the government in Damascus?
The general topic is the high prices everywhere in Damascus. The prices do not match the salaries in Damascus. Even worse, most people in Damascus do not work. The services are available, but the prices are very high.
Q: How is the security and safety situation in Damascus?
The regime continues to conduct raids against some houses. Checkpoints are everywhere. The campaign to enlist young men in the army continues.
At night, by 9:30 pm, the streets will be empty.
We can say there is partial safety.
Q: How is the electricity service in your neighborhood, and in Damascus in general?
There is electricity, but there are scheduled blackouts every day. Recently, the electricity situation has improved. The blackouts are now between six and ten hours a day. In regime-controlled areas in Outer Damascus like in West Ghouta, the blackouts reach 18 hours a day.
Q: How do people prepare for winter with so little electricity?
The people are in a very bad situation as the regime raised the price of gasoline to 80 Syrian pounds [$0.49] per liter in gas stations. On the black market, the price reaches 200 Syrian pounds [$1.22] per liter. Generally life is expensive and people are poor.
Q: Is there enough water to meet people’s needs?
Since Ramadan, Damascus has faced a shortage of drinking water. Water is available for a few hours in the morning and then stops. In some neighborhoods it is not available at all. The water is expensive on the black market. Lately, the water service has been better as we heard that the authorities opened underground wells.
Q: Is food available? What are the prices like?
Food is available, but the prices are very high and they do not match peoples’ salaries in Damascus. Prices went up by 20 percent after the regime’s decision to raise gas prices.
Q: How is the health sector and medical services in Damascus?
There are some state and private sector hospitals and clinics. The problem is that you can’t find medicine at all. Many pharmaceutical companies closed because of the crisis. Many doctors also left the country after the beginning of the conflict.
Q: Are there foreigners in Damascus?
Of course, there are many Shiite fighters from Hezbollah and other militias. You find them everywhere in Old Damascus. They are Lebanese and Iraqis mostly.