Plummeting Syrian pound hits new black market low

A specialized website put the volatile exchange rate at 975 pounds to the dollar — more than double the official rate of 434 Syrian pounds. (AFP)
Updated 03 December 2019

Plummeting Syrian pound hits new black market low

  • The drop comes amid a spiraling liquidity crunch in neighboring Lebanon
  • A specialized website put the volatile rate at 975 pounds to the dollar — more than double the official rate of 434 Syrian pounds

DAMASCUS: The value of the Syrian pound on the black market sank to 1,000 to the dollar at some money changers Tuesday, marking a new record low for the nosediving currency.
The drop comes amid a spiraling liquidity crunch in neighboring Lebanon, which has long served as a conduit for foreign currency entering the heavily sanctioned government-held areas of Syria.
One currency exchange office in the Syrian capital Damascus said he was selling dollars on the black market for 1,000 pounds for the first time on Tuesday.
A specialized website put the volatile rate at 975 pounds to the dollar — more than double the official rate of 434 Syrian pounds posted by the central bank on its website.
At the start of the war in 2011, the rate stood at around 48 pounds to the dollar.
In the Old City of Damascus, a trader who preferred not to give his name said everything from food to transport had become more expensive in recent weeks.
“Prices have doubled in the past two months,” the trader said.
“Everybody prices their items according to the new dollar exchange rate” on the black market, he explained.
Syria analyst Samuel Ramani said the pound had fallen by 30 percent since anti-government protests erupted in Lebanon on October 17.
An economic downturn has accelerated since the protests started, and a liquidity crunch has become more acute in a country that has long served as an economic and financial lifeline for dollar-starved Syrian businesses.
As Western sanctions tightened on Syria during the war, many in the country have opened businesses in neighboring Lebanon, stashed their money in its banks and used the country as a conduit for imports.
But Lebanese banks started introducing controls on dollar withdrawals over the summer, straining the supply of the greenback to Syrian markets.
“Lebanese banks are significant for Syria’s economy as they give Syria back door access to the US dollar,” he said.
“Based on commentaries from Syrian businesspeople, it appears as if the economic crisis in Syria is even worse than that in Lebanon as a result of the protests,” Ramani said.
In another part of Damascus, a 30-year-old working in a shop selling computers and mobile phones imported from Lebanon said the store had to increase all prices.
“In the end this is going to be reflected in the market and most people won’t be able to pay according to the new prices,” the young salesman said.
“We fear further collapse,” he added.
Syria’s eight-year civil war has battered the country’s economy, and depleted its foreign currency reserves.
An array of international sanctions has targeted President Bashar Assad’s regime and associated businessmen since the start of the war in 2011.
Authorities estimate that since 2011, Syria’s key oil and gas sector has suffered some $74 billion in losses.
The United Nations estimates the conflict has caused some $400 billion in war-related destruction.
It has also killed 370,000 people and displaced millions more.


A Jordan startup delivers eco-friendly alternative to dry cleaning

Updated 05 December 2019

A Jordan startup delivers eco-friendly alternative to dry cleaning

  • Products used by WashyWash are non-carcinogenic and environmentally neutral
  • Amman-based laundry service aims to relocate to a larger facility in mid-2020

AMMAN: A persistent sinus problem prompted a Jordanian entrepreneur to launch an eco-friendly dry-cleaning service that could help end the widespread use of a dangerous chemical.

“Dry cleaning” is somewhat of a misnomer because it is not really dry. It is true that no water is involved in the process, but the main cleaning agent is perchloroethylene (PERC), a chemical that experts consider likely to cause cancer, as well as brain and nervous system damage.

Kamel Almani, 33, knew little of these dangers when he began suffering from sinus irritation while working as regional sales director at Eon Aligner, a medical equipment startup he co-founded.

The problem would disappear when he went on vacation, so he assumed it was stress related.

However, when Mazen Darwish, a chemical engineer, revealed he wanted to start an eco-laundry and warned about toxic chemicals used in conventional dry cleaning, Almani had an epiphany.

“He began to tell me how PERC affects the respiratory system, and I suddenly realized that it was the suits I wore for work — and which I would get dry cleaned — that were the cause of my sinus problems,” said Almani, co-founder of Amman-based WashyWash.

“That was the eureka moment. We immediately wanted to launch the business.”

WashyWash began operations in early 2018 with five staff, including the three co-founders: Almani, Darwish and Kayed Qunibi. The business now has 19 employees and became cash flow-positive in July this year.

“We’re very happy to achieve that in under two years,” Almani said.

The service uses EcoClean products that are certified as toxin-free, are biodegradable and cause no air, water or soil pollution.

Customers place orders through an app built in-house by the company’s technology team.

WashyWash collects customers’ dirty clothes, and cleans, irons and returns them. Services range from the standard wash-and-fold to specialized dry cleaning for garments and cleaning of carpets, curtains, duvets and leather goods.

“For wet cleaning, we use environmentally friendly detergents that are biodegradable, so the wastewater doesn’t contain any toxic chemicals,” Almani said.

For dry cleaning, WashyWash uses a modified hydrocarbon manufactured by Germany’s Seitz, whose product is non-carcinogenic and environmentally neutral.

A specialized company collects the waste and disposes of it safely.

The company has big ambitions, planning to expand its domestic operations and go international. Its Amman site can process about 1,000 items daily, but WashyWash will relocate to larger premises in mid-2020, which should treble its capacity.

“We’ve built a front-end app, a back-end system and a driver app along with a full facility management system. We plan to franchise that and have received interest from many countries,” Almani said.

“People visiting Amman used our service, loved it, and wanted an opportunity to launch in their countries.”

WashyWash has received financial backing from angel investors and is targeting major European cities initially.

“An eco-friendly, on-demand dry-cleaning app isn’t available worldwide, so good markets might be London, Paris or Frankfurt,” Almani said.

 

• The Middle East Exchange is one of the Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum Global Initiatives that was launched to reflect the vision of the UAE prime minister and ruler of Dubai in the field of humanitarian
and global development, to explore the possibility of changing the status of the Arab region. The initiative offers the press a series of articles on issues affecting Arab societies.