The instability and violence that have affected Syria since 2011 have seriously disrupted the country’s economy, making microfinance work in Syria increasingly difficult and precarious. UNRWA recently completed the first in a series of important quarterly reports on socioeconomic conditions in Syria, which has clarified the impact of the conflict on our clients and their households and enterprises.
We began lending in Syria in 2003, at a time when there was great demand for such services and very few other enterprises providing them. By 2012, we provided 30 per cent of all microfinance lending in the country, and considered Syria to have the region’s greatest growth potential for microfinance. UNRWA was also the first microfinance programme in the country to reach full operational self-sufficiency.
Despite the current challenges, our microfinance programme remains active in Syria, even establishing new branch offices to increase our outreach. From January to September 2013, UNRWA granted 1,865 loans in the country, worth SYP 71.29 million (US$ 412,053); 35 per cent of these loans went to women, who have represented a large share of our clients for several years. The overall portfolio-at-risk is less than 1 per cent, and though we have had to write off over 8,000 loans as a result of the conflict, 13 per cent have been closed and 17 per cent collected from.