Petrol rationing hits war-weary Damascus cab drivers

Syrians queue to fill their car with gasoline at a station in Damascus. (AFP)
Updated 11 April 2019
0

Petrol rationing hits war-weary Damascus cab drivers

  • The lines at the stations were the latest sign of a fuel crisis hitting regime-held parts of war-torn Syria

DAMASCUS: After his tank ran dry, Syrian taxi driver Abu Sammy had to get out and push his car with a passer-by’s help to a long queue at a Damascus petrol station.

“It’s really tiring,” said the driver after wheeling his taxi to the pumps in the east of the capital, one hand on the steering wheel.

The lines at the stations were the latest sign of a fuel crisis hitting regime-held parts of war-torn Syria, as the government set a cap on the daily consumption of subsidized petrol.

Abu Sammy said his car trouble was par for the course after months of endless queueing for scarce cooking gas and fuel oil.

“Our destiny is to wait in queues,” he said, sitting in his taxi at the petrol station in the capital’s Zablatani district.

“After gas, it was fuel oil. After fuel oil, now it’s petrol. What it’ll be tomorrow, we’ve no idea,” he said.

Syria’s government has been facing a flurry of international sanctions since the conflict started in 2011, including over the import of petroleum-related products.

On Saturday, the ministry of petrol and mineral resources said it was temporarily slashing the daily cap on subsidized petrol by half, from 40 to 20 liters per vehicle.

On Monday night, pumping stations said they received another memo from the ministry instructing them to further half the supply of fuel to 20 liters every 48 hours.

Taxi driver Abdu Masrabi anxiously watched the petrol nozzle filling up the tank of his yellow car, waiting for it to shut off, indicating he’d reached his quota.

“It’s not nearly enough,” said the 67-year-old with a greying beard, speaking to AFP even before Monday’s decision.

“I work with this taxi, driving it around all day,” he said, after queueing for four hours to fill his car up with his permitted share.

“Now I’ve managed to fill it up with this tiny amount, I’ll drive home and go back to work tomorrow,” he said.

A reduced supply of fuel will limit his ability to ferry passengers around, Masrabi said, but he needs to work every day.

“If I stopped working I wouldn’t be able to feed myself or my children.”

On Monday night, Ali Ghanem, the minister of petrol and mineral resources, said the temporary cap would not effect the monthly allowance of subsidized fuel.

Motorists were still entitled to 200 liters of subsidized fuel every month, he said.

The latest decision is meant to limit the amount of fuel each vehicle can consume on a daily basis, “to allow for a larger number of citizens to fill their tanks on any given day,” he said during a tour of petrol stations in the capital.

But Damascus residents fear the state-supported monthly petrol allowance could also drop.

Speaking to journalists on Saturday, Prime Minister Emad Khamis said most Syrians consumed an average of 120 liters a month.

“This is the quantity that should be subsidized... anything above that will be sold at the normal rate,” he said.

After a series of victories against opposition fighters and militants since a Russia military intervention in 2015, the regime now controls almost two-thirds of Syria.

But the country’s main oil and gas fields remain out of government control in the northeast of the country, and Western nations are working to hamper oil-related imports.

In November, the US Treasury issued a new advisory threatening penalties against those “involved in petroleum-related shipping transactions with the Government of Syria.”

It also moved to disrupt a network “through which the Iranian regime, working with Russian companies, provides millions of barrels of oil to the Syrian government.”

Premier Khamis struck out at the measures as yet another way of trying to attack Syria.

“The war is not over yet and enemies are trying to compensate what they have lost politically and in the field through economic war against our country,” the premier said.

Lines hundreds of meters long have formed near petrol pumps in recent days as Syrians rush to obtain their subsidized share.

But while some drivers complained they needed more cheap petrol, others said their main worry was time wasted crawling in queues.

Hussam Antabli said he recently filled up on non-subsidized fuel for twice the price — 9,000 Syrian pounds (around $20) — just to avoid hours of waiting.

“I’m buying time at that price,” he said.

“I’d rather work than wait.”


‘Sand mafias’ threaten Morocco’s coastline

Updated 55 min 2 sec ago
0

‘Sand mafias’ threaten Morocco’s coastline

  • Unscrupulous construction contractors illegally stripping beaches of sand
  • Beaches and rivers are heavily exploited across the planet, legally and illegally, according to UNEP

MOHAMMEDIA: Beneath an apartment block that looms over Monica beach in the western coastal city of Mohammedia, a sole sand dune has escaped the clutches of Morocco’s insatiable construction contractors.

Here, like elsewhere across the North African tourist magnet, sand has been stolen to help feed an industry that is growing at full tilt.

A report last month by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) on the global over-exploitation of this resource accuses “sand mafias” of destroying Morocco’s beaches and over-urbanizing its coastline.

“The dunes have disappeared along the entire city’s coastline,” lamented environmental activist Jawad, referring to Mohammedia, on the Atlantic between Rabat and Casablanca.

The 33-year-old environmental activist leads Anpel, a local NGO dedicated to coastal protection.

“At this rate, we’ll soon only have rocks” left, chipped in Adnane, a member of the same group.

More than half the sand consumed each year by Morocco’s construction industry — some 10 million cubic meters (350 million cubic feet) — is extracted illegally, according to UNEP.

“The looters come in the middle of the night, mainly in the low season,” said a local resident in front of his grand home on the Monica seafront.

“But they do it less often now because the area is full of people. In any case, there is nothing more to take,” added the affable forty-something.

Sand accounts for four-fifths of the makeup of concrete and — after water — is the world’s second most consumed resource.

Exploitation

Beaches and rivers are heavily exploited across the planet, legally and illegally, according to UNEP.

In Morocco, “sand is often removed from beaches to build hotels, roads and other tourism-related infrastructure,” according to UNEP. Beaches are therefore shrinking, resulting in coastal erosion.

“Continued construction is likely to lead to... destruction of the main natural attraction for visitors — beaches themselves,” the report warned.

Theft of sand from beaches or coastal dunes in Morocco is punishable by five years in prison.

Siphoned away by donkey, delivery bike and large trucks, the beaches are being stripped from north to south, along a coastline that runs from the Mediterranean Sea to the Atlantic.

FASTFACT

Siphoned away by donkey, delivery bike and large trucks, the beaches are being stripped from north to south, along a coastline that runs from the Mediterranean Sea to the Atlantic.

“On some beaches, the sand has nearly disappeared” in parts of the north, said an ecological activist in Tangiers. “There has been enormous pressure on the beaches of Tangiers because of real estate projects,” he said.

To the south, the UNEP report noted, “sand smugglers have transformed a large beach into a rocky landscape” between Safi and Essaouira. Activist Jawad points to “small scale looting, like here in Mohammedia.”

But “then there is the intensive and structured trafficking by organized networks, operating with the complicity of some officials.”

While the sand mafias operate as smugglers, “key personalities — lawmakers or retired soldiers — hand out permits allowing them to over-exploit deposits, without respect for quotas,” he added.

A licensed sand dredger spoke of “a very organized mafia that pays no taxes” selling sand that is “neither washed nor desalinated,” and falls short of basic building regulations.

These mafia outfits have “protection at all levels... they pay nothing at all because they do everything in cash,” this operator added, on condition of anonymity.

“A lot of money is laundered through this trade.”

A simple smartphone helps visualize the extent of the disaster.

Via a Google Earth map, activist Adnane showed a razed coastal forest, where dunes have given way to a lunar landscape, some 200 km south of Casablanca.

Eyes fixed on the screen, he carefully scrutinized each parcel of land.

“Here, near Safi, they have taken the sand over (a stretch of) seven kilometers. It was an area exploited by a retired general, but there is nothing left to take,” he alleged.

Adnane pointed to another area — exploited, he said, by a politician who had a permit for “an area of two hectares.”

But instead, he “took kilometers” of sand.

Environmental protection was earmarked as a priority by Morocco, in a grandiose statement after the country hosted the 2016 COP22 international climate conference.

Asked by AFP about measures to fight uncontrolled sand extraction, secretary of state for energy Nezha El Ouafi pointed to “a national coastal protection plan (that) is in the process of being validated.”

The plan promises “evaluation mechanisms, with protection programs and (a) high status,” she said.

Meanwhile, environmental activists are pleading against the “head in the sand approach” over the scale of coastal devastation.