Now in its ninth year, the conflict in Syria continues to take a heavy toll on the life of and economy of the Syrian people. The death toll in Syria directly related to the conflict as of early 2016 was estimated at more than 400,000 (UN, Apr 2016), with many more injured, and lives upheaved. The social and economic impact is huge and worsening: the lack of sustained access to health care, education, housing, and food has exacerbated the effects of the conflict, pushing millions of people into unemployment and poverty. About 6.2 million Syrians are internally displaced—more than a third of them children—and over 5.6 million officially registered as refugees (UNHCR, 2019) A severely degraded healthcare system makes Syrians extremely vulnerable to additional shocks, such as an outbreak of COVID-19. In addition, the severe decline in oil receipts and disruption of other trade have placed more pressure on Syria’s external balances, leading to a rapid depletion of its international reserves.
Assessing the Impact of the Syrian Crisis
Prior to the conflict, the World Bank Group provided support to Syria through technical assistance and advisory services on private sector development, human development, social protection, and environmental sustainability. Following the onset of the conflict in 2011, all operational activity and missions to Syria were halted. However, the World Bank monitors the economic and social impact of the conflict on the Syrian people in consultation with the international community to help inform international thinking on Syria and build preparedness for recovery efforts, if and when mandated.
In 2017, the World Bank produced two reports on the impact of the Syrian conflict: (i) a Damage Assessment of Aleppo, Idlib, and Hama, and (ii) an Economic and Social Impact Analysis (ESIA) of the conflict on Syria, called the Toll of War. The reports estimate Syria’s cumulative GDP losses from 2011 to 2016 at US$226 billion, with the latter study finding that losses due to economic disruption exceeded those due to physical destruction by a factor of 20. The longer the conflict lasts, the more difficult recovery will be, as these losses become more persistent over time.
Analyzing the Drivers of Syrian Refugees’ Spontaneous Returns
The World Bank’s analytical work program focuses on analyzing pertinent policy questions regarding the Syrian conflict.
The Mobility of Displaced Syrians (February 2019) tackled the complex problem of refugee returns. With UNHCR support, the report compared the characteristics of more than 100,000 Syrians who returned to Syria between 2015 and mid-2018, with that of millions of others who did not. It analyzed the roles played by economic, social, and demographic characteristics in decisions taken by these groups, the conditions Syrians faced as refugees in host countries, and the existing conditions where they came from in Syria, explaining the patterns of return. This involved considering both what refugees said (survey responses) and what they did (actual return decisions).
Results showed that refugees faced a difficult trade-off in deciding between living in a secure environment as a refugee and having a better quality of life if they returned home. The attendance ratio of school going children, for example, remained higher in Syria despite the conflict, than in Lebanon or Jordan, mainly because some of the coping strategies adopted by Syrians as refugees adversely effected children—for example, Syrian girls dropped out of school to marry younger, while Syrian boys dropped out to bring in extra income for their families’ survival. For these children, the accumulation of human capital stopped at that level of education, with persistent effects on lifetime well-being.
The report discovered that improving the conditions of refugees does not necessarily impede their return: refugees given one meal more a day were 15% more likely to return to Syria than others. The best results—not only in terms of return but also in regards to the welfare of refugees, their hosts, and Syrians in Syria—were achieved when diverse policy tools were used, including return assistance, service restoration, and support for host communities.
Supporting Syrian Refugees and Host Communities
The Syrian crisis has also affected Lebanon and Jordan significantly, where the density of Syrian refugees has been among the highest in the world. The World Bank’s operational response in these countries has included analytical work on the social and economic impact of the refugee influx, as well as projects to assist host communities and refugees through mobilizing grants from donor partners. In collaboration with a wide range of partners and international financial institutions, the World Bank led the establishment of the Global Concessional Financing Facility, a mechanism that offers middle-income countries more favorable terms of financing for development, combining grants with loans from Multilateral Development Banks.
To date, the World Bank has supported over US$3 billion worth of projects in Jordan and Lebanon, mostly on concessional terms, addressing the impact of the Syrian refugee crisis to help refugees and host communities. These projects support jobs and economic opportunities, health, education, emergency services and social resilience, and infrastructure.
The World Bank also manages the Lebanon Syria Crisis Trust Fund (LSCTF), established in 2014 to provide grant financing to projects that mitigate the impact of the Syrian crisis in Lebanon. The LCSTF is funded by the World Bank’s State- and Peace-Building Trust Fund, UK, France, Norway, Finland, the Netherlands, Sweden, Switzerland, and Denmark, and has supported emergency projects including social safety net, education, health, and municipal services.
The Bank is also currently conducting a Regional Economic and Social Impact Assessment that analyzes the impact of the Syrian conflict on the Mashreq region quantitatively and identifies ways in which the impact has manifested itself. The report aims to aid the design of policies in Mashreq countries, as well as give donors and international organizations the information they need for the efficient allocation of funds and human resources within durable solutions.
Last Updated: May 06, 2020