Syria, three years of devastation

By Hélène Tuypens, MEDEA Institute

It has been three years the Syrian crisis has started. Because of this sad anniversary there was a huge mobilisation on the 15th of March by hundreds of humanitarian organisations and organisations for human rights, for example Save the Children, Oxfam and Amnesty International to show their support for the Syrian people. The campaign, called #WithSyrians, is an appeal to the leaders of the world to make this anniversary the last one marked by bloodshed. These NGO’s ask for immediate action to guarantee that all Syrians in need of aid can receive it and that their voices are heard during the peace talks. Three years of crisis, the consequences are grave.

To recapitulate; in the midst of February the second round of negotiations took place in Geneva between the opposition and the Syrian government. Even though Ban Ki-Moon, secretary general of the United Nations, promised to “end the violence” and to “establish an executive government of transition”, the talks proved to be a waste of time and did not realize any progress. Since then, the peace talks are on hold and Bashar al-Assad is preparing his re-election. His mandate is expiring in July, but the Syrian parliament has already voted a bill to authorize his re-election on the 15th of March.

Syrian buildings ravaged by air raids, 19th of January in Aleppo. © MOHAMMED WESAM

Since the beginning of the conflict, the losses for the Syrian economy have risen to 103 billion dollars, as was calculated in June 2013. This means a total sum of 174 % of the GDP achieved in 2010, according to a report published by the Syrian Center for Policy Research (SCPR) in collaboration with two agencies of the United Nations (UNRWA and UNDP). Economist Jihad Yazigi, author of the information website The Syria Report, says “huge sectors of the Syrian economy have ceased to produce and a number of economic actors have exited the country”. On the one hand, “flights, kidnapping, road blockages and control over the petrol fields […] have become sources of income”. On the other hand, some officials have benefited from the war and with them new institutions and new networks are created. In the beginning – March 2011 – the revolt was pacifist, but later became militarized because they faced brutal repression. In October 2013 the UN calculated that of the total of 103 billion dollar the Syrian economy lost between the start of the conflict and mid-2013, 49 billion was lost in 2012 alone. The UN also estimates that unemployment is at 50% and that half of all Syrians live nowadays below the level of poverty or in extreme poverty. In these conditions, the most wanted goods by the Syrians are bread, tea, sugar and gasoline.

According to Mazen Irsheid of the Jordan’s United Financial Investment Company “Syria keeps its head above water on an economic level thanks to the support of its allies”. On top of exporting petroleum, Iran has opened a credit line worth 3.6 billion dollars since July 2013 for the Syrian regime. Russia has played an immense role by signing an agreement in Damascus in December 2013 which authorizes a Russian company to research hydro-engines in its submarine basis. According to the projections for 2014-2018 made by The Economist, the Syrian economy is going to sink even lower this year and the long term perspectives remain sombre.

Syrians find refuge especially in Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey, but also in Iraq and Egypt. © L’EXPRESS

A solid number of Syrians have fled the fights to neighbouring countries. Doctors Without Borders, who organizes aid at site since months, describes the situation in the refugee camps: “We have assisted a couple of 1,000 families who, since their arrival […], have absolutely nothing: no housing, no water, no sanitary facilities. They live under plastic covers. We have given them tents, food and first-aid kits.” For the Red Cross the situation means 9 million people who are in desperate need of aid. The cities have become ruins. More than six million Syrians are displaced in their own country to survive among the battle fields and a lot of them are children. According to the UN, some three million civilians are pinned down in combat zones and have virtually no access to humanitarian aid. Now the situation really starts to degrade, the resources needed to continue urgent missions in 2014 are not present. They are not financed anymore and the donations have stopped.


In Melbourne, Australia, 200 people have gathered on Federation Square, the central square and traditionally a place to meet each other. © ESTHER LIM / AFP

All across the globe, between the 13th and 15th of March, manifestations have marked three years of Syrian conflict. The coordinator of these manifestations has recreated an art piece by famous street artist Banksy, named “Girl with a balloon”. In multiple cities balloons have been released, candles have been lit and symbolic places have been illuminated.

Recreation of Banksy’s art piece before the British parliament in London. © CARL COURT / AFP

In Al Zaatari, Jordan, Syrian girls who had to flee their country have released red balloons. They live in the largest Syrian refugee camp in Jordan, situated in Mafraq. © MUHAMMAD HAMED / REUTERS