The Shocking Statistics Behind Syria’s Humanitarian Crisis

Refugees in Iraq wait for humanitarian aid CREDIT: NEW YORK TIMES/LYNSEY ADDARIO
Refugees in Iraq wait for humanitarian aid CREDIT: NEW YORK TIMES/LYNSEY ADDARIO

A newly released report shows that after three years of civil war, the Syrian economy has effectively collapsed, leaving more than half of the population in extreme poverty and millions lacking the employment opportunities necessary to provide for their families.

“Syria is facing one of the most severe development and humanitarian disasters in recent history,” the Syrian Centre for Policy Research (SCPR) report begins. “Squandering Humanity: Socioeconomic Monitoring Report on Syria” details the precarious conditions many Syrians live in today. The study, conducted with support from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Country Office in Syria and the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), looks at the socioeconomic situation in Syria from July to December 2013. The results are grim, unsurprising given that the Syrian people have been in the midst of a bloody civil war for three years now.

“The figures are staggering”, said Rabie Nasser, researcher at the Syria Centre for Policy Research in Damascus, in a statement. “The social impact and the toll on individuals is incalculable”, Chris Gunness, UNRWA Spokesperson, agreed. Here are some of the most shocking statistics from the study:

  • Three in four Syrians live in poverty.
  • 54.3 percent of the population lives in extreme poverty, without adequate access to food. In conflict zones, many citizens face hunger, malnutrition, and starvation.
  • 40 years of Syrian human development have been lost. Before the conflict, the country met standards constituting “medium human development” on the Human Development Index; it now sits in the “low human development” group.
  • 54.3 percent of the labor force, 3.39 million people, faces unemployment. The loss of income because of this mass unemployment is estimated to adversely affect 11.03 million Syrians.
  • Nationwide, 51.8 percent of children are no longer attending school — in some cities, including Aleppo, the number is 90 percent.
  • 61 of the country’s 91 public hospitals have been damaged; 45 percent are out of service.
  • The total economic loss because of the conflict, by the end of 2013, is estimated at $143.8 billion, 276 percent of the country’s 2010 GDP in constant prices. The internal trade and transport and communication sectors have been hit the most heavily, together comprising 40 percent of GDP loss.
  • Public debt, mostly domestic, but also foreign — primarily from Iran — has been mounting, now standing at 126 percent of GDP.
  • “[R]unaway price inflation is squeezing the household budgets of an increasingly jobless, poor and desperate population,” with the costs of basic living expenses up 275–360 percent.

The U.S. has so far been the largest single donor to efforts to provide aid to the Syrian people, both those internally displaced and those who have crossed the border into other countries in the region. Its record for Syrian refugees fleeing beyond the region, however, has been less than stellar. In the three years of the conflict, the U.S. has admitted a most underwhelming 120 refugees. Eleanor Acer, director of Human Rights First’s Refugee Protection program, has called for the U.S. to admit more Syrian refugees. Though the Obama administration has made the process easier for those Syrians attempting to enter the country, the numbers have yet to show substantial increases.

Unfortunately, the solution to this crisis does not appear to be as simple as just providing more aid. Leaked UN documents showed that the majority of aid from the UN’s World Food Program (WFP) has been going to regime-controlled areas, allowing Assad has been employing starvation tactics against regime-held areas. A spokesperson for the opposition Syrian Coalition called the WFP data a “shocking and a major scandal.”

While the ideal means by which Syrians can be assisted might be unclear, what is clear is that the need is dire. Approximately three percent of the Syrian population — around 520,000 people — is estimated to have been maimed, wounded, or killed in the war, and no end to the conflict appears to be in sight. Until wider, multilateral, international action is taken, the report concludes, the crisis will continue “squandering humanity through violence, fear and destruction that has inflicted multi-dimensional socioeconomic harm across all aspects of people’s lives, livelihoods and habitat from which few Syrian households have escaped unscathed.”