President Vladimir Putin unexpectedly pulled out of Syria this week after Russian warjets had flown 9,000 sorties over five and a half months, providing some relief to the regime of President Bashar al-Assad in Damascus. Putin said Russian “objectives” had been “generally accomplished”, but his exact gameplan remains unclear. Meanwhile, the war in Syria enters its sixth year — with no clear end in sight. Here’s the price that Syria and the world have paid already.
DEAD AND WOUNDED
Due to an inability to monitor on the ground, there are no reliably precise statistics on the number of people killed in Syria’s war. According to the UN, over 250,000 are dead, and well over a million wounded. But officials acknowledge that that figure has not been updated in months. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based opposition group that monitors the war, puts the death toll at more than 270,000, while a recent report by the Syrian Centre for Policy Research, an independent thinktank, said the conflict has caused 470,000 deaths, either directly or indirectly.
Almost half of Syria’s prewar population of 23 million has been displaced. The UN refugee agency says there are 6.5 million displaced within Syria, and 4.8 million outside. Much of the remaining population is in dire need of humanitarian assistance. The refugees have mostly fled to neighbouring countries — Jordan, Turkey, Lebanon and Iraq — and have flooded Europe, where most arrive after a treacherous sea journey from Turkey.
Historic Aleppo, Syria’s largest city and former commercial centre, has been devastated. Its ancient souks and the famed Umayyad Mosque complex have been trashed, its 11th century minaret toppled. The city of Homs, Syria’s third largest, lies in ruins, entire blocks reduced to rubble or uninhabitable husks of housing. Rebel-held towns around Damascus such as Jobar, Douma and Harasta are now a vista of collapsed buildings and rubble. A preliminary World Bank-led assessment in six cities — Aleppo, Daraa, Hama, Homs, Idlib, and Latakia — released in January showed an estimated damage of $ 3.6 billion to $ 4.5 billion as of end 2014.
Almost all of Syria’s UNESCO World Heritage sites have been either damaged or destroyed, including Aleppo in the north, the ancient town of Bosra in the south, the Crac des Chevaliers — one of the most important preserved medieval castles in the world — and the Palmyra archaeological site. Some have been damaged by fighting and shelling, others intentionally blown up or pillaged. The Islamic State, which took control of Palmyra last year, destroyed many of its Roman-era relics, including the 2,000-year-old Temple of Bel and the iconic Arch of Triumph. Numerous archaeological sites in Syria are being systematically targeted for excavation by criminals and armed groups. These include the Apamea archaeological site in Hama, the Tell Merdikh archaeological site in the Idlib region, and the Dura-Europos and Mari sites in Deir el-Zour.
There is no accurate estimate of the economic cost. A recent report by the charity group World Vision and consultant group Frontier Economics estimated that the conflict has so far cost Syria $ 275 billion in lost growth opportunities — 150 times more than pre-war Syria’s health budget. If the conflict ends in 2020, the cost will grow to $ 1.3 trillion, it estimated. A World Bank report estimates the damage to the capital stock in Syria as of mid-2014 to be $ 70 billion to $ 80 billion. The situation has deteriorated greatly since then.
COSTS TO OTHERS
Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq have borne the brunt of the war’s economic impact. Already in fragile situations, many of them are facing tremendous budgetary pressure. The World Bank estimates, for instance, that the influx of more than 630,000 Syrian refugees has cost Jordan over $ 2.5 billion a year. This amounts to 6% of GDP and one-fourth of the government’s annual revenue. Cash-strapped Lebanon is also stretched to a breaking point and Turkey says it can no longer afford to take in refugees.