Syria reconstruction would bring huge benefits for the region

Syria reconstruction would bring huge benefits for the region

Concentrating on rebuilding Syria would indirectly also help to resolve the Syrian refugee crisis (File/AFP)
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Extended domestic conflicts can have a devastating impact on a country’s infrastructure, economy, safety and the living standards of its people. Often, once the conflict finally ends, it can still take many years to rebuild the affected nation, its economy and its infrastructure. One example is Syria, which is currently suffering one of the worst humanitarian crises of our time.

The February earthquake, which inflicted an estimated $5.1 billion of damage in Syria, has further exacerbated the situation caused by more than 12 years of civil war. Even before that disaster, more than two-thirds of the Syrian population needed humanitarian assistance, according to UNICEF, due to the “worsening economic crisis, continued localized hostilities, mass displacement and devastated public infrastructure.”

UNICEF stated last month: “Now, the country is also grappling with severe human and material damage from catastrophic earthquakes and aftershocks … that have left families in urgent need of food, water, shelter, and emergency medical and psychosocial assistance. Around 90 percent of families in the country live in poverty, while more than 50 percent are food insecure. The economic crisis is worsening negative coping mechanisms and particularly affecting female-headed households while contributing to the normalization of gender-based violence and child exploitation.”

The estimated reconstruction cost for Syria is up to $1 trillion. The longevity of the conflict has played a critical role in imposing significant damage on the country’s infrastructure and economy. Several concentric circles of violence were also occurring at the same time, prolonging the conflict. Many rebel groups were not only fighting the government, but also each other, and some proxy and militia groups from other countries became engaged in the domestic war. Meanwhile, there was a global stalemate on reaching a resolution between the US and other Western countries on the one hand and Russia and China on the other. In addition, global terror groups such as Daesh gained prominence at different points during the conflict.

The longevity of the conflict has played a critical role in imposing significant damage on the country’s infrastructure and economy

Dr. Majid Rafizadeh

But after more than a decade of turmoil, it is now important, for several reasons, that the international community focuses on measures that can help rebuild Syria.

First of all, it is important to point out that, when a country’s economy is impacted to such a significant level, it also has negative effects on other countries in the region. As the World Bank reported in 2020, the conflict in Syria has imposed “a heavy economic and social toll on the country’s neighbors in the Mashreq region. From 2011 onward, average annual gross domestic product growth rates were reduced by 1.2 percentage points in Iraq, 1.6 percentage points in Jordan, and 1.7 percentage points in Lebanon in real terms solely because of the conflict in Syria. Cumulatively, these reductions correspond to 11.3 percent of the combined pre-conflict (2010) GDPs across the three countries.”

It added: “The fallout was transmitted through multiple channels. With decreasing transit trade through Syria and stalling service exports like tourism, the marginal effect of the trade shock on GDP reached -3.1 percentage points in Jordan and -2.9 percentage points in Lebanon.”

In other words, moves to reconstruct and rebuild Syria would not only help improve the living standards of the Syrian people and address the widespread poverty across the country, but they would also assist neighboring countries, particularly Iraq, Lebanon and Jordan, in improving their economic outlook.

Secondly, there may be some concerns that financial assistance or loans diverted to Syria may not end up being utilized for the reconstruction of the country. But this issue can be resolved if global financial institutions were to monitor the situation and cooperate with the private sector. One important step would be to help expand the private sector in Syria.

Before the conflict erupted, the World Bank Group provided “support to Syria through its technical assistance and advisory services on private sector development, human development, social protection, and environmental sustainability. Following the onset of the conflict in 2011, all World Bank operational activity and missions to Syria were halted. Nonetheless, the World Bank monitors the impact of the conflict on the Syrian people and the economy in consultation with other members of the international community. This helps inform international thinking on Syria from an economic and social perspective and build preparedness for post-agreement recovery efforts, when and if mandated.”

Thirdly, rebuilding Syria would help promote security in the country, due to the fact that poverty and conflict-stricken states can often be ripe locations for terror and militia groups to grow, gain power and inflict damage on the country and broader region.

If the international community were to concentrate on rebuilding Syria, it would also help to resolve the Syrian refugee crisis

Dr. Majid Rafizadeh

Finally, if the international community were to concentrate on rebuilding Syria, it would also indirectly help to resolve the Syrian refugee crisis. After more than 12 years of conflict, Syria remains the largest refugee crisis in the world. The UN Refugee Agency reported in March that more than “14 million Syrians have been forced to flee their homes in search of safety. More than 6.8 million Syrians remain internally displaced in their own country, where 70 percent of the population is in need of humanitarian assistance and 90 percent of the population live below the poverty line.”

Helping resolve this issue would also have a tremendous positive impact on countries such as Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan, Egypt and Iraq. As the UN Refugee Agency stated: “Approximately 5.5 million Syrian refugees live in the five countries neighboring Syria … Germany is the largest non-neighboring host country with more than 850,000 Syrian refugees.”

In a nutshell, the international community ought to focus on measures that can help rebuild Syria’s infrastructure in order to address the widespread poverty and humanitarian crisis, the nation’s crippled economy, and its security. Such measures would also have positive impacts on neighboring countries’ economy and security, and thus help stabilize this volatile part of the world.

  • Dr. Majid Rafizadeh is a Harvard-educated Iranian-American political scientist. Twitter: @Dr_Rafizadeh
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