Syrian economy may take 30 years to recover, UN report says

Businesses across Syria have been devastated by the destruction inflicted by the traumatic three-year civil war, and the economy could take 30 years to recover to its pre-conflict level, a United Nations survey published Wednesday warns.

The fighting “saw the economy lose a total of $84.4 billion over the first two years of the conflict. … Even if the conflict ceased now and GDP (gross domestic product) grew at an average rate of 5 percent each year, it is estimated that it would take the Syrian economy 30 years to return to the economic level of 2010,” it said.

During the war, Syria has experienced “massive de-industrialization, dilapidation and degradation,” the study said. Businesses have closed or gone bankrupt, and those that haven’t have been looted or destroyed by war, the study said. Capital flight – people getting their money out of the country – has been massive.

“This is the first study of its kind and provides hard statistical evidence of the tragic and widespread impact the conflict is having on lives and livelihoods across Syria,” said Chris Gunness, spokesman for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, which undertook the survey as part of its responsibilities for assisting Palestinian refugees.

The survey polled clients of the agency’s micro-finance loan program in Syria and found that nearly three-quarters had been displaced from their homes. In the Yarmouk district of Damascus, a heavily Palestinian area that once held 160,000 residents, 89 percent of residents had fled, the survey found.

Nearly 56 percent of those surveyed said their homes had been damaged and 14 percent said their homes had been destroyed.

The report based its survey on a random sample taken from among 8,000 business people, both Palestinians and Syrians, participated in the micro-finance program. Of those, 840 were selected to take part in the current survey; 541 fully completed the poll.

“Almost half of all enterprises (44.2 percent) had been closed by the owners and another two-fifths (39.9 percent) had been robbed or looted,” the survey found. In the Damascus suburb of Douma, which is currently controlled by rebels, 72 percent of those surveyed reported their business had been looted and nearly two-thirds had been damaged.

U.N. economists estimated that since the outbreak of violence more than three years ago, 2.3 million jobs had been lost, “with the welfare of almost 10 million dependents jeopardized.”

Zarocostas is a McClatchy special correspondent.