Most Syrians now devote their days to finding fuel to cook and warm their homes, and standing in long lines for rationed pita. Power shortages are constant, with some areas getting only a few hours of electricity a day, barely enough for people to keep their cellphones charged.
Desperate women have taken to selling their hair to feed their families.
“I had to sell my hair or my body,” a mother of three said recently in a hair salon near Damascus, speaking on condition of anonymity, like others interviewed for this article, for fear of arrest.
Her husband, a carpenter, was ill and only sporadically employed, she said, and she needed heating oil for the house and winter coats for her children.
With the $55 she got for her hair, which will be used to make wigs, she bought two gallons of heating oil, clothes for her children and a roast chicken, the first her family had tasted in three months.
She cried from shame for two days afterward.
The falling currency means that doctors now earn the equivalent of less than $50 a month. The head of the doctors’ syndicate said recently that many were going abroad for work, to Sudan and Somalia, among the rare countries that allow easy entry for Syrians but neither of which has a strong economy. Other professionals earn much less.
“People’s concern, more than anything else, is food and fuel,” said a Damascus musician. “Everything is abnormally expensive and people are terrified to open their mouths.”
The causes are multiple and overlapping: widespread damage and displacement from the war; sweeping Western sanctions on Mr. al-Assad’s government and associates; a banking collapse in neighboring Lebanon, where wealthy Syrians kept their money; and lockdowns to combat the coronavirus.