Syrian oil farmers

Abu Zechariah is a penniless farmer, just like many Syrians. The fields in northern Syria around him seem endless. Kilometers of fertile green fields under a bright blue sky. The winter was long and hard here, but spring makes the crops grow. Normally. Today, Abu Zechariah mostly farms oil. Together with his neighbor he tinkered together a primitive installation from which today flows steaming petrol. A rusted tank and no more than some tubes, cooled in a self-made stream, are sufficient to transform crude oil into gasoline. "There is no water to grow potatoes and no gasoline to keep the machines running. Who wants to survive as a farmer here, must provide for himself. A part of the gasoline I use for the land, the rest I sell in town." Zechariah trows a cup of pitch black oil on the fire. The rickety tank, which could explode at any time, is placed on the pitch where he used to cultivate his potatoes. Syria has been an oil producing country since its independence in 1946. But in recent decades, stocks significantly downsized. Before the armed conflict Syria’s production counted more then 400,000 barrels, accounting for one-half percent worldwide. This meant a big gulp of the drink for the Syrian regime’s revenue. Today, experts estimate that production has fallen back to a meager 130,000 barrels. The decision of Europe last month, to import Syrian oil, should support the Syrian opposition. Just because they own most of the oil wells today. The bulk of the oil is located in the north-east of the country, at the border with Iraq. This oil-rich area is, at the moment, mainly controlled by the Syrian Kurds. But the question is whether buying oil from the opposition will really help the people of Syria. Every week Zechariah gets crude oil from a rebel controlled city five hours away. The rebels open the tap for anyone who pays. Since Europe has terminated the oil embargo against Syria, little oil farmers like Zechariah fear for their bread. The increasing demand will most likely mean an increase in the price of crude oil. "I can not predict the future, but what I know is that Europe and America should have reacted right away. ow it’s the peole who are the victims" Zechariah feels powerless. He barely manages to feed his family and complains about the pollution of his land. He points at the oil traces. "This I have never chosen. I do it out of necessity, because it is not possible anymore to cultivate my potatoes. My family still needs to be fed." Zechariah throws another can of oil on the fire. The flames blaze high and oppressive smoke stings the eyes and mouth. "We asked for freedom, and this is what we get. If I could, I would return to how it was before, with Assad as our leader. I could do my job and support my family. That to me is freedom." The diesel that oil farmers like this produce, is of varying quality and therefore not suitable for export abroad. When lifting the EU oil embargo, farmers like Zechariah have no direct benefit. When it comes to exports, Europe will always buy the crude oil, directly from the opposition. Moreover, the infrastructure to pump oil and provide safe transportation is still a far away. It is doubtful whether their decision will make any difference down here anyway. On the other hand, in Syria itself there is a significant shortage of decent refined oil products. Self-refined petrol is sold today in the Syrian Kurdish town Ras al-Ayn. It sells per liter, or even per half liter. For a liter of oil, Syrians will soon pay 1 euro. Too high for a country in which the economy is almost at a standstill. Abu Zechariah sighs. For him there is nothing but survival.

Article about homemade oil refining by farmers in Syria. It goes with the photos you can find under this link:


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