1. Continuity and Transformation in the Syrian Conflict 2. Social Landscape 3. The Macroeconomic Ramifications 4. Towards Inclusive and Sustainable Peacebuilding and Economic Recovery


An end to the conflict
and a better future
for all Syrians is possible

Syria At War

Eight Years On

This report is the second product of the collaboration between the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) and the Centre for Syrian Studies (CSS) at the University of St Andrews, which began with a letter of understanding on joint scholarly activity, signed in January 2016. It is the result of extensive research by scholars and experts associated with the National Agenda for the Future of Syria (NAFS) Programme, as well as NAFS-sponsored dialogue with a broad spectrum of Syrian stakeholders, including actors in civil society, the private sector and national and international academic institutions, aimed at moving towards consensus beyond the polarizations of the conflict period. It benefited from analysis by CSS resident experts and an extensive network of scholars.

The report provides data on the socioeconomic impact of the conflict in the Syrian Arab Republic. It documents the consequences for the economy and social fabric that pose daunting future challenges: whether it is production, investment or human development, the conflict has cost the country its hard-won socioeconomic gains, even though the flaws in the pre-conflict order contained the seeds of the conflict.

Mounir Tabet

Rola Dashti
Executive Secretary

Raymond Hinnebusch

Raymond Hinnebusch
Director of the Centre for Syrian Studies
University of St. Andrews


Almost a decade of conflict has radically transformed all aspects of Syrian society. The purpose of this report is to trace these transformations at social, economic and governance levels. It provides a framework for moving forward, proposing principles, priorities and pragmatic steps toward an inclusive and sustainable economic recovery and peacebuilding process.

Such an undertaking is of the utmost urgency. The human and social toll of the conflict has been devastating. Casualties number in the hundreds of thousands. The total number of involuntary internally displaced persons (IDPs) and refugees amount to almost 12 million, or half of the preconflict population. Those who have survived face an incredibly difficult daily reality. In 2019, more than 11.7 million people within Syrian Arab Republic were still in need of at least one form of humanitarian assistance, with 5 million of these in acute need. About 6.5 million were food insecure and an additional 2.5 million susceptible to becoming acutely food insecure. Widespread destruction of the educational and health infrastructure casts a shadow over current and future human development prospects, particularly for an entire generation of schoolage children.

1. Continuity and Transformation in the Syrian Conflict

“Losses in human development in education and health have been disastrous and, seemingly, irreversible, which has been particularly painful for the generation of Syrians who came of age at the time of the conflict.”


The conflict has resulted in a dramatic transformation at all levels of State and society. After several years of conflict involving Syrian and non-Syrian actors, the Syrian Arab Republic has exhibited many of the symptoms of State failure, including loss of monopoly over the use of violence, compromised territorial control and, in many areas, a complete breakdown of order.

Intervention by rival external States turned the conflict into a proxy war, the regular economy giving way to a war economy and whatever layers of civil society that did exist transformed to a conflict society. Losses in human development in education and health have been disastrous and, seemingly, irreversible, which has been particularly painful for the generation of Syrians who came of age at the time of the conflict.

2. Social Landscape

“The Syrian Arab Republic’s human development index (HDI) fell sharply from 0.64 in 2010 to 0.549 in 2018, downgrading its status from the medium human development countries umbrella to that of the low human development countries.”


The conflict continues to cause damage to social structures and the physical infrastructure, from disruptions in electricity or no safe water, to a lack of access to health care, education and decent employment. The country’s social fabric has been shattered, destroying the livelihoods and capabilities of many civilians, straining social ties and invigorating community intolerance. Syrian civilians have suffered the most. The proportion of civilian deaths has been high and rising while the bulk of survivors have either been internally displaced or sought asylum in neighbouring countries where the suffering continues among refugee communities.

People in need (millions)

3. The Macroeconomic Ramifications

“Total economic toll of the conflict is estimated at USD 442.2 billion: This is the sum of the estimated value of the damage to physical capital (USD 117.7 billion) added to the estimated losses in GDP (USD 324.5 billion).”


The conflict in the Syrian Arab Republic has been one of the most destructive since the Second World War. It has encompassed huge physical and social damage, infrastructure destruction and a massive refugee crisis. And severe economic downturn.

In this chapter, we turn to the economic consequences, and the Syrian macroeconomic indicators in particular. The diverse economic and fiscal costs are identified and measured using data from the Central Bureau of Statistics in Syria,105 Central Bank of Syria, ESCWA, National Agenda for the Future of Syria (NAFS) Programme estimations and calculations, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) DataMapper and the International Trade Centre, among others, to compare data from before and after the conflict

Distribution of damage to physical capital by governorate, 2011-2018 (billion dollars, constant 2010 price)

4. Towards Inclusive and Sustainable Peacebuilding and Economic Recovery

“Syrian identity is pluralistic and expressive of Syrian cultural diversity and cannot be reduced to any one of its components only.”


The scale of the conflict coupled with its geopolitical complexity implies recovery and reconstruction is of global importance, not just for Syrians in desperate need. Before the conflict, the Syrian Arab Republic was classified as a middle-income country but gains in development have been reversed. While the country was at 112 in global HDI rankings in 2012, it dropped to 154 in 2019.142 All socioeconomic indicators have significantly deteriorated. Each Syrian has been affected differently, but the conflict has negatively impacted on the lives of nearly all people and households.

The formation of the 150-member Constitutional Committee in September 2019, under terms agreed by the government and the Syrian Negotiation Committee, facilitated by the United Nations in Geneva, marked an important step towards a political solution. The committee is significant in that it entails both the government and the opposition recognizing the other as interlocutors in the political process.