SEATTLE, Washington — It is no secret that Syria is in trouble. The civil war pushed a vast majority of people into poverty and unemployment. Many lives have been lost and countless more have been damaged. The refugee crisis has caused international panic. More and more families to lose touch daily. The conflict immediately sparked worldwide responses and discussions about potential solutions, including economic sanctions targeting President Bashar Assad’s rule. The ones most affected by these sanctions, however, are not the ones in power, but the average citizens. In a country where living day-to-day is already a struggle, sanctions have made bad conditions worse for the poor.
Facts and Figures:
- More than 80 percent of Syrians live below the poverty line. After the civil war began, many citizens found themselves unsure of when they would eat their next meal. Another 30 percent live in abject poverty, which means they are just barely surviving.
- The conflict has reduced life expectancy by 6 years. In the first three years of the civil war, Syria’s life expectancy fell from 75 to 69. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation reports that this is largely due to the war-torn environment, including water shortages, malnutrition and poor sanitation.
- The United Nations reported that economic losses in Syria have reached almost $400 billion. After seven years of civil war, destruction has cost Syria $388 billion. This economic crisis has directly led to skyrocketing poverty rates in the region.
- Syria’s neighbors are responding economically and politically. In 2011, the Arab League suspended Syria’s membership in addition to imposing economic sanctions in response to the detrimental conflict. The coalition also called for Assad’s resignation, and certain countries have even supported opposition groups. Specifically, the Gulf States and Jordan provided arms and financial support to anti-Assad movements.
- The United States has imposed harsh economic sanctions too. While the U.S. initially imposed sanctions in 1979, it has implemented several more rounds of them in recent years. President Obama, under Executive Order 13582, froze all assets of the Assad regime, banned any U.S. citizen from doing business within the country and prohibited imports of Syrian oil products.
Effects of Sanctions on Syria’s Poor
The Arab League, the United States and the European Union have been implementing the most significant sanctions on Syria. When U.S. President Trump intensified sanctions and imposed them on Iran, Syria’s regional ally, Syria took a turn for the worse. Living conditions quickly deteriorated from devastating to catastrophic for the poor. The worldwide sanctions targeted the country’s key sources of income, including the oil industry, money transfers and several institutions and high-level officials.
Though Syria was once a major oil exporter, it now relies mainly on imports. Since the recently tightened sanctions, fuel costs have led prices to rise across almost every sector. Eight out of 10 Syrians make less than $100 a month. The country’s currency, the Syrian Pound (SYP), lost a third of its value in 2019. The government reports that Syria’s losses from the sanctions alone have entered the billions. These figures have real consequences for the Syrian population.
The sanctions, which are created to target businessmen close to Assad, have caused companies to pay elevated fees to manufacture and distribute products. Additionally, the ban on money transfers has created devastating effects on pharmaceutical and medical companies. Before the conflict, Syria could supply 90 percent of its citizens’ medicinal needs. Now, the country depends heavily on imports of vaccines, terminal illness medications, blood derivatives and dialysis supplies. Plus, shipping restrictions have forced most medicinal imports to come by land from Lebanon, which raises costs even more.
Pediatric cancer patients are being hurt by sanctions, too. In Damascus Children Hospital’s cancer ward, there is an extreme shortage of medicine for the patients. Elizabeth Hoff, a World Health Organization representative in Syria, said that cash was not the only reason for the lack of medicine. “The impact of economic sanctions imposed on Syria heavily affected the procurement of some specific medicine including anti-cancer medicines,” Hoff added. Many international pharmaceutical companies simply did not have the access they needed to deliver these drugs as a result of the sanctions.
Syria’s poor needs immediate help. Luckily, several organizations are looking to offer short-term relief as political negotiations for long-term solutions take place. The International Rescue Committee (IRC) has made progress in the region by providing emergency aid to those uprooted by the war. By 2018, the group had helped close to one million people. The IRC opened clinics, offered job training and gave out food vouchers.
IRC isn’t the only organization trying to make a difference. UNICEF is another group that is helping. The organization has established an emergency relief system in the country. It has worked to supply medical care, food and clean water to millions of children affected by the civil war. The Syrian Medical Society also works to treat the sick and injured in Syria. Given the shortage of medical care due to sanctions, this organization is key. The group treated more than 2.7 million patients in 2018 alone.
Who Do the Sanctions Really Hurt?
Syria’s civil war already had detrimental effects on citizens before the tightened economic sanctions. It is harder now more than ever to earn a livable wage, which has led to four out of five Syrians to fall below the poverty line. Though the Syria sanctions were meant to target the Assad regime, those who work in the government are the ones who can escape the effects of harsh sanctions, unlike the average citizen. Poverty in Syria is at an all-time high, and the country needs global assistance.