Developments in Syria

Updated: 16 September 2016

The conflict in Syria is very serious and the prospects of a peace agreement appear to be remote. The war has resulted in the world's worst humanitarian disaster and Syria is now considered a low-income country rather than a middle income country. The economy has transitioned to a war economy with large elements of criminality such as smuggling, paid recruitment to armed groups and kidnapping, which constitute barriers to peace.

Syria has for centuries been ruled as a dictatorship by the Assad family and the Baath-party, together with its security forces. When the former president died in 2000, his son Bashar al-Assad took over as president it raised hopes for political and economic reforms that was never fulfilled. Instead, the repression of the opposition continued.

Inspired by the Arab spring in North Africa, many Syrians began to demonstrate for reforms in spring 2011. The conflict had a violent end when the regime chose to put down an early peaceful uprising.

The opposition against Assad is fragmented. Although the rebel side is dominated by Sunni Muslims there are representatives of various minorities and religions and different political ideologies. Groups linked to the terror network al-Qaeda are also operating in the country. When the uprising started, the opposition was dominated of moderates but islamists have gradually strengthened their position. People choose long-term or short-term loyalty of many different reasons that can range from pragmatic survival to ideological conviction.

Refugees of the Syrian Civil War

In late 2014, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) estimated that more than 202,000 people had lost their lives during the conflict, of them 63,000 were civilians. At the same time nearly four million Syrians had fled the war - mostly to Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan - and nearly twice as many were displaced within the country.

In the winter of 2014, UN estimated that more than 12 million Syrians were in need of humanitarian assistance. The situation is worst in the opposition-controlled parts of Syria. Although a large part of the state budget goes to subsidies on oil, electricity, and food, the prices of goods are rising. Moreover, the hospital system is decimated.

Economic collapse

The Syrian economy is a mixture of a planned economy of the socialist model and a market economy with private companies. Before the Civil War, Syria had a relatively diverse economy with a well-developed agriculture, large natural resources and a strong tradition in trade and business. However, large parts of the population lived in poverty.

Since the outbreak of war, the economy has collapsed. Many armed groups on both the opposition and government side are involved in extortion, robbery and looting to finance their operations. During the war, the country's two main sources of income - oil exports and tourism - have gone dry. The government side is currently heavily dependent on Iranian and Russian support, while the rebel-controlled areas are very hard hit by the economic collapse. Many companies have been forced to shut down, gone bankrupt or have been subjected to destruction and looting. Many farms have been destroyed, and farmers have been displaced, which has led to grain shortages. Before the war, Syria exported its surplus of wheat.

Half of Syria′s school children miss out on education

Syria previously had a well-developed education system and reading and writing skills are high. Prior to the war, virtually all children went to elementary school, but 2014 nearly 40 percent of Syria's children could no longer go to school. The situation is worst for the IDPs and in the opposition-controlled parts of Syria. Local initiatives to keep schools alive has often been hampered by lack of resources, bombings and damaged infrastructure.

The war has also transformed Syria into the world's most dangerous country for journalists and aid workers.

Page owner: Department for Asia, North Africa and Humanitarian Assistance

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