Ma'arat al-Ikhwan is one of the larger villages of the Jabal al-Summaq area in north Idlib countryside. Like Kaftin, Ma'arat al-Ikhwan is a village on the plains of the Jabal al-Summaq area. A local council exists to provide services to the remaining original inhabitants and the IDPs in Ma'arat al-Ikhwan. On 16 June 2020 I conducted an interview with Basil Abu Omar, head of the relief office at the Ma'arat al-Ikhwan local council. The interview is slightly edited and condensed for clarity. Any parenthetical insertions in square brackets are my own.
Q: What is the number of inhabitants in the village currently, specifically the number of original inhabitants and the number of IDPs?
A: The number of resident inhabitants is 5000, and the number of IDPs 3800.
Q: How would you describe the services situation and humanitarian situation in the village generally?
A: The services and humanitarian situation is very lacking and in need of support. For example the people have not benefited from food baskets for more than 6 months, and bread is very expensive, around 900 Syrian pounds. There is an NGO that has supported the water in the village and the cleaning.
Q: The electricity is only from solar panels, or is there a generator in the village?
A: Some of the people have solar panels but only a few. There was a generator but because of the exorbitant costs the people have not been able to complete the payment.
Q: From where does the water come?
A: The water is in a general network line through pumping water.
Q: Has the local council undertaken any projects of building and development recently? Or is the problem that there is no support for any projects?
A: It has not occurred [undertaking of any projects recently]. There is no support currently.
Q: How is bread secured?
A: Bread is independently made and not subsidised. It is bought through a number of shops for selling food goods. They get the bread from the neighbouring villages.
Q: How has the rise of the price of the dollar impacted the citizen's life in the village exactly?
A: It has impacted very greatly on the livelihood of the people, and especially as the people are not working. There is no work. The people's concern has become the bread.
Q: Can you give examples of the prices of basic goods currently and how they have increased amid the rise of the price of the dollar?
A: For example bread is 900 Syrian pounds: the price of one bundle. The family on average needs 3 packs per day. Sugar is 1800 Syrian pounds. Tea is 23000 Syrian pounds. Rice is 1700 Syrian pounds. Burghul wheat is 1300 Syrian pounds.Gas is more than 27000 Syrian pounds.
Q: Ohhh. Very elevated prices.
A: Today the exchange rate surpassed 3000 [Syrian pounds to the dollar].
Q: Have you transitioned to using the Turkish lira?
A: The people don't have Syrian pounds or Turkish liras. There are some people who have transitioned to using the Turkish lira, but the majority of people don't have it.
Q: Yes. I expect the problem is that the people do not have money from the outset.
Q: And if you don't have money what do you benefit from transitioning to the Turkish lira?
A: Not at all. People are not working and are relying on aid. There is no aid currently. A few obtain work with a pay of 1000 Syrian pounds a day. It is not sufficient for the price of bread.
Q: What are the reasons for the neglect by the NGOs?
A: We are trying as far as we can to convey our voice, but there is the lack of international support in the recent times.
Q: There is currently a lot of talk about new sanctions on Syria. Do you expect that the sanctions will impact on the situation in Ma'arat al-Ikhwan and Idlib?
A: Of course, a lot: rise of prices, unemployment, hunger, more poverty, many cases of theft.
And among the problems as well is the lack of presence of education in the village because parties supporting the education sector are not present.
The village is in need of support and an emergency response from NGOs, as well as development projects and small projects for IDP families. A suggestion may be: rearing of livestock, projects of tailoring or handicrafts for the women or projects for the youth.*
(Update 17 June 2020: Last paragraph added at request of interviewee).