In 2007, 35 percent of Syrians lived at or below the international poverty line. As of 2017, that number lies above 80 percent. Why is Syria poor so suddenly? A large reason for this rise is the Syrian civil war, which started in 2011 sparked by pro-democracy protests and rebel forces that formed to fight the government forces led by Syria’s president. Here are six reasons why poverty has grown in Syria.
- Inflation: Currency inflation in Syria was at 51.1 percent in August 2016 after reaching an all-time high of 121.29 percent in August 2014. When the Syrian government began running out of money due to the high cost of war, it printed more and more money to pay their debt. When asking, “Why is Syria poor?” inflation is an inevitable answer. It makes cash lose much of its value, and, as a result, millions of people in Syria have lost their life savings. Businesses have had to close because it is impossible to trade with foreign markets, and food prices have become unaffordable. This means less overall economic security for the Syrian people.
- Healthcare: The civil war has decimated healthcare infrastructure in Syria over the past six years. In 2016 alone there were almost 200 attacks on healthcare providers, and forces on both sides have prevented citizens from accessing healthcare as a war tactic. Because of this, diseases such as typhoid, tuberculosis and cholera are becoming endemic again in Syria. Poverty is inextricably tied to healthcare access, and, when a country’s public health system begins to fail, it is much more difficult for people to escape poverty.
- Unemployment: Largely due to inflation, many Syrian businesses and industries have closed. Over 50 percent of the labor force is currently unemployed. This creates massive economic insecurity for millions of Syrians Without money, most are unable to access basic human needs such as food, water and shelter. Why is Syria poor? A large reason is a lack of employment opportunities.
- Infrastructure: Much of Syria’s basic infrastructure has been lost because of the war. According to the United Nations Development Program, “the supply of electricity and water [in Syria] is unpredictable and major roads are impassable due to destruction or fighting…All of this has aggravated the socio-economic plight of the population.” This lack of infrastructure in Syria greatly increases the vulnerability of the poor.
- Education: Fifty percent of Syrian children no longer attend school, and almost half have lost up to three years of schooling. In addition, many school buildings have been destroyed. Education is one of the surest ways out of poverty, so without reliable access to education, many Syrian children are becoming a “lost generation” trapped in a cycle of poverty.
- Fleeing Refugees: There are nearly five million Syrians officially registered as refugees. This hurts Syria’s economy as labor flows out of the country, which in turn hurts people in Syria who are already impoverished. The unwillingness of many countries to welcome Syrian refugees further hurts people who are still in Syria because it means refugees are unable to send money to their families.
While it can be easy to get swept up in the ugliness of war, it is important to remember the human stories underneath it and recognize that the answers to the question “why is Syria poor?” present solutions. Organizations such as the UNDP currently have boots on the ground in Syria and are working to eradicate poverty and reduce inequality. In 201,6 UNDP implemented 199 local projects that helped more than 2.5 million Syrians. The World Food Programme provides emergency food assistance to 4.5 million people each month. One person can make a difference and help fight poverty in Syria, simply by calling his or her representatives and encouraging them to support legislation that accepts more refugees or provides more funding for international aid. All of these things are steps towards a less poor Syria. And so perhaps the true question is not “why is Syria poor?” but “how can I help?”
– Adesuwa Agbonile