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PRESS RELEASE July 10, 2017

The Visible Impacts of the Syrian War May Only be the Tip of the Iceberg

WASHINGTON, July 10, 2017—A new World Bank report estimates that as of early 2017, the conflict in Syria has damaged or destroyed about a third of the housing stock and about half of medical and education facilities, and led to significant economic losses. A key finding of the report is that the breakdown of the systems that organize both the economy and society, along with the trust that binds people together, has had a greater economic impact than the destruction of physical infrastructure.  The report further finds that the longer the conflict continues the more persistent will be the impact, making recovery and reconstruction even harder.

Six years of conflict in Syria have taken a severe toll on the country’s people, with more than 400,000 estimated deaths and over half the population driven from their homes in what is the largest refugee crisis since World War II. The Toll of War: The Economic and Social Consequences of the Conflict in Syria provides a detailed analysis of the physical damage caused by the war, the impact of casualties and the forced displacement of the population, the effect on the economy and the overall condition of the Syrian people. To calculate the extent of the damage, the report relied on satellite imagery cross checked with traditional and social media postings, data from the ongoing Syria Damage Assessment, and information from partner organizations that have a presence on the ground. 

The war in Syria is tearing apart the social and economic fabric of the country,” said Hafez Ghanem, World Bank Vice President for the Middle East and North Africa. “The number of casualties is devastating, but the war is also destroying the institutions and systems that societies need to function, and repairing them will be a greater challenge than rebuilding infrastructure – a challenge that will only grow as the war continues.”   

The report finds that on average about 538,000 jobs were destroyed annually during the first four years of the conflict, and that young people now facing an unemployment rate of 78 percent have few options for survival. The specific targeting of health facilities has significantly disrupted the health system, with communicable diseases such as polio reemerging and an estimate that more Syrians are dying from lack of access to healthcare than as a direct result of the fighting. The education system has similarly been disrupted by damage to facilities and the use of schools as military installations, while fuel shortages have reduced the supply of electricity to major cities to around two hours per day, affecting a range of basic services. 

The fact that 9 million Syrians are not working will have consequences long after the fighting has stopped,” said Saroj Kumar Jha, World Bank Director for the Mashreq. “The departure of nearly 5 million refugees, combined with inadequate schooling and malnutrition leading to stunting, will cause long-term deterioration of the county’s most valuable asset, its human capital. In the future, when Syria needs it most, there will be a collective shortage of vital skills.

By comparing current circumstances with a projection of how Syria would have developed in the absence of conflict, the report calculates that the war has caused a loss in Gross Domestic Product of US$226 billion, or four times the GDP in 2010. Economic models were also used to disentangle the multiple effects of the war and measure their separate impacts, and to determine the consequences of prolonged conflict. While the rate of economic deterioration slows down over time, its effects are more persistent making recovery harder. 

Our results show that if the war were to end this year, the economy would recover 41 percent of the gap with its pre-conflict level over the following four years, and the losses from conflict would amount to 7.6 times the pre-conflict GDP over two decades” said Harun Onder, World Bank Senior Economist and lead author of the report. “But if the war goes on to a tenth year, less than one third of this gap would be recovered in four years after its end, and total losses would amount to thirteen times the 2010 GDP over two decades. We also estimate that the number of Syrians fleeing across the border in search of safety would double between the sixth and twentieth year of the conflict.



William Stebbins
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Zeina El Khalil
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