The heavy toll of war in MENA

June 12, 2016

The 2016 edition of the Global Peace Index, released by the Australia-based Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP), offered no surprises.
The Middle East and North Africa region (MENA) looms large in the document. It points out that “Syria’s debilitating civil war” has caused the death of between 250,000 and 470,000 people since 2011. Millions more were driven from their homes.
Between 2006 and 2015, the world witnessed an increase in the number of refugees and displaced persons from 9.8 million to 15 million, with Syria accounting for most of the increase. “In 2007, just 0.1% of the Syrian population was classified as refugees or IDPs.
This figure rose to an extraordinary 63.18% in 2015,” the Global Peace Index (GPI) noted. IDPs are internally displaced persons.
War and conflict have come with a serious economic cost. The GPI estimates that the global bill is $742 billion. The per capita cost in the MENA region was estimated to be $464 in 2015 and war and conflict in Syria and Iraq absorbed 54% of these countries’ gross domestic product (GDP).
The figures do not even consider the economic fallout of Syria’s conflict on the country’s neighbours, particularly Lebanon and Jordan.
According to the World Bank, the economic effect of the war in Syria on Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Egypt has been $35 billion. More specifically, the flow of refugees costs Jordan about $2.5 billion a year, about 6% of the country’s GDP and one-quarter of its revenues.
Between 2012 and 2014, GPI said, Lebanon’s real GDP growth was cut 2.9% annually as more than $1 billion was spent by the state on hosting refugees.
As if the horrors of war were not enough, terrorism continues to plague the region.
Terrorism is a global phenomenon. The GPI said terrorism casual­ties have increased 286% since 2008 and “the number of countries that recorded no terrorist incidents decreased from 49 in 2008 to 37 in 2016 out of 163 countries”.
It is the Arab world and the wider community of Muslim nations that are particularly affected.
The majority of terrorist activity, according to the GPI, is highly concentrated in five countries: Iraq, Nigeria, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Syria. These nations accounted for 78% of deaths from terrorism in 2014.
Since 2015, terrorist incidents have had a direct catastrophic effect on tourism in Egypt, Tunisia and Turkey and indirect ripple effects have affected a relatively immune place such as Morocco.
Boko Haram and the Islamic State (ISIS), responsible for about 50% of terror deaths, are widening their circles of mayhem.
Wars, terror and other forms of violence plaguing the MENA region are reflections of deep-rooted social, economic and cultural problems, including income disparities, sectarian and ethnic divides and inadequate policies. Even before the guns of war fall silent, long-term reforms must be implemented and, when conflict ebbs, international investment in new development policies will be needed.
If experience is any indication, arms purchases will be easier to finance than development projects. “The direct cost of violence in 2015 is 30 times the amount spent on official development assis­tance in 2014,” notes the Global Peace Index. That is a sad fact.