Channel NewsAsia

War-struck Syria forced to import wheat and oil

Before the civil war that tore the nation apart, Syria was one of the few countries in the world that was completely self-sufficient, with extensive wheat and oil reserves. Three years on, that's all changed. 

DAMASCUS: Before the civil war that tore the nation apart, Syria was one of the few countries in the world that was completely self-sufficient, with extensive wheat and oil reserves. Three years on, that's all changed. The Syrian government is now forced to buy its oil from other countries, as rebels take hold of Syria's oil-rich areas.

Syria was once renowned for its fields of golden wheat. The crops grown there were enough to feed a prosperous nation. But that time has gone.

Abou Ali, a farmer from the Homs countryside, remembers the time when a culture of self-sufficiency prevailed but the bitter civil war has laid it to waste. He said: "The government provided all facilities to encourage this development, starting from land, seeds, water, etc. But the terrorism that occurred here in the country focused on depriving citizens of the essentials of life - which are food and wheat."

Advancing rebel groups burnt wheat fields to ashes and took the prosperous oil-producing regions as their own. Dr Hassan Zeinab, Vice-Minister at Syria's Ministry of Oil, said: "There are several groups stealing Syrian oil. There are terrorist militant groups, looting gangs and there are the cooperating states which are facilitating these acts."

Now the country has no other choice but to import wheat and oil - buying back oil from the same rebels who seized it. Oil sanctions from the United States and Europe, Syria's main trading partners, have also closed petroleum companies, causing many people to lose their jobs.

And it is not only Syria's citizens who are suffering from the fallout. Militants are using primitive methods of extraction to refine the oil, and the environmental impact has been devastating.

Michael Assaf, a clean energy researcher, said: "If it occurs that there is an oil leak from a ship in the ocean, we see the international NGOs run to save the plants and animals - which is a good thing. But what about a whole country? Doesn't Syria deserve some caring from these NGOs?"

For Syria, the destruction and looting of its oil and wheat is another blow in the litany of war-struck devastation. Amid the civil war, it is difficult to imagine the prosperity and abundance that marked Syria three years ago. But it is with that memory that Syria hopes to rise from the ashes and start anew.