Attrition: The Desolation Of Syria


June 17, 2014: The Syrian civil war has entered its fourth year and it is becoming pretty obvious that it may take over 30 years to recover from the damage done already. Economic losses (damage to buildings, land improvements land infrastructure) so far are in excess of $150 billion. That’s for a country of 22 million that had, in 2011, a GDP of about $70 billion. GDP is now south of $40 billion and still falling. Over half the population is living in poverty, more than twice as many as before the war. Nearly a quarter of the population is destitute, surviving on foreign aid in refugee camps or, lacking that, scraping by on whatever they can scrounge up. Unemployment is north of 20 percent and many of those with jobs don’t have a lot to do. Naturally a lot of people are making a lot less. After all most of GDP ends up as income for people. 

Over 40 percent of the population has been driven from their homes. Most find other housing inside Syria but about 20 percent of the population is now outside the country. Since most of these are pro-rebel Sunnis, they will probably be exiles for life. If the government wins, as it seems to be doing, they will probably write off the exiles as an acceptable loss and distribute the property of the departed to more loyal Syrians. This also makes it easier to get the economy back in operation and replace lost services (like schools and hospitals). Fewer people means you need fewer of these services. But there will be permanent damage. About half the school age children are not attending school and millions of kids will have to catch up, if they can, on a year or more of lost schooling. The current generation of kids will be less educated that previous or future ones.

The country will carry a heavy debt, mainly to Iran but also a lesser amount to Russia. Despite its own economic problems Iran has spent over $20 billion on Syria since 2011. While Iran has about eight times the GDP of pre-war Syria, the Syrian rescue funds had to be raised when Iran was going through a rough patch economically. Iran will expect some of that money to be paid back. So will Russia. It will be difficult to get much back anytime soon as Syria does not have much in the way of natural resources. That may change. While Syria does not have a lot of oil and gas production now, with peace there are off shore gas fields to develop and shale oil and gas that can be fracked out of the ground. If all those resources are exploited Syria could be rebuilt in twenty years or less. That’s a big “if” however. 

So far over 160,000 have died. That’s a conservative estimate and the actual deaths may be 30-50 percent higher. Some 34 percent of the deaths so far have been civilians while 39 percent have been pro-government forces and 27 percent rebel fighters. Only two percent of the pro-government forces were foreigners (mainly Hezbollah from Lebanon and Iranians) while 29 percent of the rebel dead have been. Most of these foreign rebels were from Iraq and other Arab countries. Most of the foreign rebel dead belonged to Islamic terrorist groups, especially the Iraqi dominated ISIL. Actually over ten percent of the rebel dead were lost during fighting between ISIL and the rest of the rebels (both secular and Islamic). That has been going on since January and is getting worse. The Syrian government seems to consider ISIL an ally as in some parts of the countries the ISIL is killing more rebels than the nearby government forces are.

In addition there are over 50,000 people who are currently captives or missing. Many of the captives are eventually released, often after “vigorous interrogation” (torture), a common practice throughout the region. Another big source of unreported or underreported deaths is the rapidly growing murder rate. The economy is wrecked and many people are either destitute or cut off from regular supplies of food and other goods. This has resulted in more crime, which means more murder or vigilante justice for known criminals. Many of these crimes will never be reported. The deaths while in detention are often not recorded, especially now that the UN War Crimes bureaucrats are talking about prosecutions against the guilty inside Syria.

Peace will eventually come to Syria, but in a fashion the Romans used to describe as; “creating a desert and calling it peace.”





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