Squandering Humanity: A new UN economic report on Syria

28 May 2014
Squandering Humanity: A new UN economic report on Syria


The conflict in Syria is creating “economies of violence that flout human rights, civil liberties, poverty rights and the rule of law, with new political and economic elites using national and international networks to trade illegally in weapons, commodities and people, while often engaged in pillage, theft, kidnapping and exploitation of humanitarian assistance. This institutional formation is incentivising the perpetuation of the conflict.” So says a report by UNRWA, UNDP and the Syrian Centre for Policy Research, published today. 

“Syria is now blighted by joblessness and overwhelmed by unemployment”, said Alex Pollock, Director of UNRWA’s Micro-Finance. “Since the conflict began 11 million dependents have lost their primary means of financial support as 2.67 million people joined the unemployed. Moreover, runaway price inflation is squeezing the households of an increasingly jobless, poor and desperate population.”  

“The figures are staggering”, said Rabie Nasser, researcher at the Syria Centre for Policy Research in Damascus. “By the end of 2013, total economic loss since the start of the conflict is estimated at USD 143.8 billion. GDP contracted by 38.2 per cent in 2013-Q3 and by 37.8 per cent in 2013-Q4 compared to the parallel quarters in 2012. The implications for a human development organization like UNRWA are tragic and immense.”

According to the report, “Squandering Humanity”, covering the last two quarters of last year, “public debt continued to grow in the second half of 2013, as the government imported oil and basic commodities to alleviate shortages in the local market and to subsidise basic goods. By the end of the reporting period, public debt reached 126 per cent of GDP, but, while still largely drawn from domestic debt, a mounting portion is composed of foreign borrowing, mainly from Iran.”

“The social impact and the toll on individuals is incalculable”, said Chris Gunness, UNRWA Spokesperson. “As the report points out, the conflict is 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.

Other Key Findings

Three in every four Syrians lived in poverty at the end of 2013, with more than half the population (54.3 per cent) living in extreme poverty, only able to secure the most basic food and non-food items required for the survival of their households. Some 20 per cent of the population survives in abject poverty where they scarcely have the means to meet their basic food needs, with the abject poor in conflict zones and besieged areas facing hunger, malnutrition and starvation.

Syrian human development regressed by more than four decades during the conflict. With a Human Development Index measure of 0.472, Syria has fallen from the “medium human development” cluster of nations into the “low human development” group, largely as a result of weakening performance in education, health and income.

Education is teetering with a more than half of all school-age children (51.8 per cent) no longer attending school. This reached above 90 per cent in Al-Raqqa and Aleppo and 68 per cent in Rural Damascus. By the end of 2013, 4,000 schools were out of service because they were destroyed, damaged or housing IDPs.

The healthcare system has been compromised through damage and destruction to medical facilities and healthcare infrastructure, the flight of healthcare professionals, death and injury of medical staff and the collapse of the pharmaceutical industry. Some 61 of 91 public hospitals were damaged with almost half (45 per cent) out of service, while 53 private hospitals also affected.

Click here to read the full report.

Background Information: 

UNRWA is confronted with an increased demand for services resulting from a growth in the number of registered Palestine refugees, the extent of their vulnerability and their deepening poverty. UNRWA is funded almost entirely by voluntary contributions and financial support has been outpaced by the growth in needs. As a result, the UNRWA programme budget, which supports the delivery of core essential services, operates with a large shortfall. UNRWA encourages all Member States to work collectively to exert all possible efforts to fully fund the Agency’s programme budget. UNRWA emergency programmes and key projects, also operating with large shortfalls, are funded through separate funding portals. UNRWA is a United Nations agency established by the General Assembly in 1949 and mandated to provide assistance and protection to some 5.4 million Palestine refugees registered with UNRWA across its five fields of operation. Its mission is to help Palestine refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, West Bank, including East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip achieve their full human development potential, pending a just and lasting solution to their plight. UNRWA services encompass education, health care, relief and social services, camp infrastructure and improvement, protection and microfinance.

For more information, please contact:

Sami Mshasha
Director of Communications, Arabic Language Spokesperson
+972 (0)54 216 8295
+972 (0)258 90724