SEATTLE — When civil war finally comes to an end, the challenge will begin to rebuild Syria where five years of conflict have reduced major cities to rubble and left 80 percent of the population impoverished.
Reconstruction will come with a hefty price tag. The World Bank estimates that it will take at least $170 billion to rebuild Syria and get the country back on its feet.
Here are five things the international community can do to help rebuild Syria successfully:
- Focus on repairing critical infrastructure: Syrian infrastructure has sustained serious damage due to prolonged fighting. According to the World Health Organization, 50 percent of Syrian hospitals are either destroyed or partially functioning in part because they have been frequent targets of Syrian and Russian airstrikes. Two-thirds of the population has no access to clean drinking water.
- Reverse the brain drain: The United Nations estimates that nearly five million Syrians have fled the country since the war began, including some of the country’s most skilled workers: entrepreneurs, teachers, doctors, etc. Many of them are currently seeking asylum in Europe. But for Syria to have a successful recovery, the refugees must be coaxed back once the fighting stops. Losing so much “human capital”-the term economists use to refer to the knowledge, skills and experience possessed by a country’s workforce-would be a great setback for the country and its postwar development. As for those refugees who do end up resettling elsewhere…
- Allow them to work: In Europe, as well as in Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon, the presence of Syrian refugees has stoked political tensions. But these potential workers could provide significant economic benefits. As one study by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy points out, refugees in Turkey have actually stimulated the local economy by setting up their old businesses across the border. Several countries in Europe, meanwhile, need more young workers to beef up their aging labor forces. Syria would also profit from the money these workers abroad would send home, known as “remittances.” Remittances are often a key source of income for countries where bad governance and social unrest discourage foreign investment. Somalia, for example, has managed to build a thriving private sector with help from remittances, despite the country’s ongoing civil war.
- Be inclusive with aid: According to a 2014 study by the Arab Reform Initiative, foreign governments and aid agencies trying to help a country rebuild often concentrate on major urban centers while neglecting rural areas. This oversight can prove problematic in two ways: first, by exacerbating previous inequities (according to the International Fund for Agricultural Development, 62 percent of impoverished Syrians lived in the countryside before the war); second, by creating a sense of unfairness that could potentially spark future conflict. In Afghanistan, for example, uneven aid distribution over the last decade helped spur the resurgence of the Taliban, an Islamist militia that briefly ruled the country in the late 1990s before being ousted by a U.S. invasion in 2001.The failure to make foreign aid in postwar Syria more inclusive could have a similar effect by perpetuating the unequal conditions that helped spur the civil war in the first place.
- Facilitate a successful democratic transition: After reviewing a number of recent studies on the subject, the World Bank found that countries that transition to democracy immediately after a civil war generally see their economies rebound faster. It reckons that, had Syria switched to democracy in 2015, its rate of economic growth would reach 7.78 percent by 2020. Without such a transition, growth is only expected to reach 3.33 percent. Of course, democracy means more than just elections. Establishing economic freedom is even more critical. This mean securing property rights and developing strong government institutions to protect them. Without these things, Syria is more likely to sink back into a cycle of violence, poverty and authoritarianism.
Ultimately, there is no magic formula for successful post-conflict development. But by taking these steps, the international community could give Syria a better chance of emerging from its civil war a more peaceful and prosperous nation.