Saturday,25 November, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1283, (18 - 24 February 2016)
Saturday,25 November, 2017
Issue 1283, (18 - 24 February 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Verging on collapse

A report by the Centre for Syrian Studies has drawn attention to the true scale of the human and economic catastrophe underway in Syria, writes Bassel Oudat in Damascus

Al-Ahram Weekly

No one can calculate the true magnitude of the losses sustained by Syria over the past five years. Given the ongoing war, the lack of security and the absence of documenting organisations, it is difficult to identify the true number of casualties, including the dead, the wounded and disabled, and the detained and disappeared.

It is impossible to ascertain with any accuracy the number of homes, schools and hospitals that have been demolished, or the scope of the infrastructure that has been destroyed. Accurate figures capturing the economic and financial losses the country has suffered are also difficult to come by.

Many activists and local organisations have attempted to document aspects of the Syrian catastrophe, while international and UN bodies have tried to assess the economic, human and social costs of the five-year crisis.

But all of them have noted that the figures are not complete, as the regime led by Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad does not permit them or the media to work in freedom, or to release figures that contradict its policies and claims of its war footing.

Any institution is taking a risk when working in areas under the control of the Islamic State (IS) group, while operating in areas controlled by the armed Syrian opposition has other risks; notably, shelling by regime or Russian forces.

According to the latest statistics, some four million buildings have been destroyed in Syria since the conflict began, along with more than 3,000 schools, 70 per cent of hospitals and health centres, and 60 per cent of infrastructure.

Hundreds of large factories and some 10,000 small workshops have been destroyed, while state institutions have nearly collapsed in many cities.

The Syrian Centre for Political Studies, an NGO, recently issued a report, the fifth in a series covering the Syrian crisis, assessing the conflict’s impact on social and economic life in the country and comparing its findings for 2015 with the period before the crisis began.

On the economic front, the report states that the Syrian economy is on the verge of collapse, giving a grim portrait of the future of the country’s economic development in light of the orchestrated destruction of its human, material and institutional components, and the loss of most of its national wealth.

The report estimates economic losses from the beginning of the conflict to the end of 2015 at $254.7 billion.

Total economic losses are valued at more than four times the value of the GDP in 2010. The GDP share of government services has declined sharply, reflecting a shift in government policies to cut non-military spending in favour of military spending.

According to the report, average spending for a Syrian household has dropped to unprecedented levels, demonstrating the extreme suffering of Syrian families.

Private consumption in 2015 alone shrank by 10.8 per cent. And household consumption in Syria has declined by 70 per cent over the past five years, meaning that individual consumption is now at a level that allows only subsistence.

The country’s consumer price index rose by 42 per cent in 2015 alone. Public consumption declined by 33.1 per cent in 2015, reflecting government moves to reduce subsidies.

The Syrian lira has lost ground against a basket of hard currencies and was worth only 10 per cent of its 2011 value by the end of 2015. One dollar now buys 450 lira, compared to 45 before the conflict started.

The report says that public investment has been severely curtailed throughout the crisis as the government has prioritised military spending and the payment of wages.

The poverty rate is currently estimated at 85.2 per cent. “Some 35 per cent of the population now lives in absolute poverty on less than $1 a day per household,” Syrian economist Abdullah Halawa told Al-Ahram Weekly.

Experts warn that the deteriorating socioeconomic conditions have created a rift between Syrians who have little idea of how to mend it, particularly since the opportunities for foreign capital inflows to Syria are currently non-existent and are even likely to be doubtful after the crisis.

The restoration of security in the country may take decades, according to numerous international reports.

On the human level, the report notes that some 45 per cent of the Syrian population has been forced to leave their homes. There are now 6.36 million internally displaced persons, many of them displaced multiple times. It is estimated that about 3.11 million people are refugees and another 1.17 million have emigrated, putting the total number of externally displaced at 4.28 million.

The report said that unemployment had risen from 14.9 per cent of the working population in 2011 to 52.9 per cent by the end of 2015. Some 2.91 million people are currently unemployed, 2.7 million of them having lost their jobs during the crisis.

As a result, 13.8 million people out of a population of 25 million have lost their primary sources of income. These figures do not include unemployed Syrians in refugee camps outside the country, who number another five million.

Education in Syria is also facing enormous obstacles. In the current school year, 45.2 per cent of children are not enrolled in school, which will have a lasting negative impact on the country’s future. The report estimates lost school time at an aggregate of 24.5 million school years and a cost of $16.5 billion, representing an irremediable loss of human capital.

As a result of the crisis and the war waged by the regime for its own preservation, Syria is now classed among the least-developed countries, falling from 121 to 173 in a ranking of 187 countries.

The report concludes that Syria is in a state of fragmentation, its material, economic, social and cultural infrastructure shattered. Even if the war ended today, it would take decades for the country to regain its former levels of development.

On human casualties, reports by documenting organisations, Western and Syrian alike, and among them the Syrian Hurriyat Centre, indicate that some one million people have been killed in Syria on all sides in the past five years, a figure that greatly exceeds UN estimates of 280,000 deaths more than a year ago.

Some Syrian organisations that have documented the casualties by name have put the death toll at 350,000.

Rights groups confirm that another one million people have sustained permanent disabilities, which will create social, human and economic problems for decades to come.

Some 200,000 people have disappeared and some 18,000 children have been killed, more than 98 per cent of them by regime forces. Children constitute six per cent of all victims of the conflict, and about one million children have lost one parent and 100,000 have lost both.

The Syrian regime refuses to discuss these figures, saying that its military survival takes precedence over them. It will think about the consequences of the war when it has eliminated the opposition and neutralised any threat to itself, it says.

Meanwhile, the opposition is busy with urgent matters, such as food and medical and humanitarian assistance for the millions of refugees. It cannot afford the luxury of thinking about the Syrian economy for the time being, though if it could change the regime tomorrow it would be stunned by the magnitude of the destruction left in its wake and the burden the country will have to bear for many long decades to come.

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