The cost of war in Syria

Sunday 16/07/2017

There could have been no better reminder of the urgency of the Syria peace talks in Geneva than the World Bank’s sober assessment of the toll of war. The report was released the very day that the UN envoy to Syria opened the seventh round of indi­rect talks between Syrian government representa­tives and opposition leaders to try to wind down the 6-year civil war.

For all the entrenched disagreements between the two sides, there can be no dispute over the great and terrible cost of bloody conflict — to the Syrian state, its people and to the diminishing prospects for future generations. As the World Bank put it: “Conflicts destroy tangible and intangible assets and leave deep marks on a country’s social fabric, culture and collective memories.”

The numbers offered by the report are stark enough and they do not even pretend to tell the whole story. Overall, the World Bank estimates that Syria’s gross domestic product suffered a cumulative loss of $226 billion from 2011-16. That means every year war has ravaged the country, the average decline in the value of goods and services was $50 billion. Syria’s housing stock — the total number of houses and flats available — stands depleted with 7% destroyed and 20% damaged.

These losses are especially severe in Deir ez-Zor, Palmyra and Aleppo but Homs, Damascus and many other cities and towns, too, have suffered the loss of roads, bridges, water resources, grain silos and other economically significant assets. Half the medical facilities and more than half the schools and colleges across the eight governorates covered by the report were damaged. And 16% of hospitals and 10% of schools have been destroyed. Syria’s once-thriving and lucra­tive hydrocarbons sector has also been hit hard. Oil GDP declined 93% from 2011.

This is a tragic snapshot of the consequences of a prolonged conflict, which is not yet over. Syria has become the theatre of a tangled conflict in which many foreign forces, not least Iran, have disparate and dangerous roles. And Bashar Assad’s regime is not projecting a credible vision of the future.

It can only be hoped that good sense and goodwill triumph as the world contemplates the immense task of helping to rebuild a Syria shattered by war. The damage goes much beyond the World Bank’s estimates. There is the lost opportu­nity for millions of Syrians — the chance to get an education or a job, raise a family and strengthen community and country. There are the hundreds of thousands forcibly displaced. They have lost homes and opportunities to build their future. What about the psychological cost of trauma on the children who lived through this war?

No one can ever total up those cumulative costs but it is fair to say that, for millions of Syrians, there is no turning back the clock. They cannot recover the future they never had.

Syrians must be given a chance to rebuild their country and they need the world’s steadfast help.