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Economists planning Syria's 'Marshall Plan'

Over a year of conflict has destroyed the foundations of Syria's economy. Economists working on the "Day After" project want to use the reconstruction to make some fundamental reforms.

Syrian Nasif Hashoum, 54, looks at the rubble of a house destroyed in a Syrian government airstrike in Anadan, on the outskirts of Aleppo, Syria, Wednesday, Aug. 22, 2012. Photo:Muhammed Muheisen/AP/dapd

Anadan Syrien Zerstörung

The Syrian civil war still rages, but the damage is already devastating. Economic data service "The Syria Report" has said the Syrian government has estimated the damage caused by the conflict up until now at $2.2 billion (1.75 billion euros).

The entire country is suffering from the war, said economist Emad Tinawi, who is drawing up plans for Syria's economic recovery at the "Day After" project. Entire neighborhoods have been destroyed in many towns across the country. Streets have been torn up, apartment blocks shot to pieces, industrial plants rendered inoperable and infrastructure destroyed. None of the country's regions has been left unaffected.

A member of the Free Syrian Army runs for cover during clashes with Syrian army soldiers in Aleppo's Saif al-Dawla district. Photo: REUTERS/Zain Karam

Almost no town in Syria has escaped the devastation

Syria must be re-built as quickly as possible after the fall of President Bashar Assad, to minimize the suffering of the population. But to do that, a number of preconditions need to be met, said Tinawi. "It depends on the country stabilizing and becoming secure again very quickly," he said. "It needs a new government."

One of the most vital tasks for that new government is establishing a stable ceasefire. "If the violence continues, the prospects for economic recovery are significantly worse," Tinawi added. "On top of that, the reconstruction would take a lot longer."

Equal opportunities

In the long term, there is another decisive element to successful recovery, said Tinawi - the willingness of Syrians to take responsibility for the collective good. Under Assad's dictatorship, the population worried little about the state or about public affairs. Moreover, Syrians had grown accustomed to living with corruption and nepotism, which has had catastrophic effects for political and economic developments.

An Iraqi soldier keeps watch during the arrival of Syrian refugees at the al-Qaim Abu Kamal border crossing in Iraqi town of al-Qaim, Iraq. Photo: EPA/AHMED JALIL +++(c) dpa - Bildfunk+++

The conflict has exacerbated Syria's brain drain

For that reason, Tinawi said, it's important to act decisively against any form of cronyism - establishing equality of opportunity is essential. "From now on, all Syrians must have the same chance to take part in the economic life of the country," he said. "The economy must be open to all - and not just to members of a certain family, tribe, clan, or political party."

Brain drain

Syria has been the victim of a huge brain drain over the past 40 years, and what creativity was left has been exhausted by the civil war. "A lot of Syrians have fled the country," Tinawi said. "It will take time for them to return, because they were forced to flee."

That's why it's all the more important for Syria to find investors and partners for the recovery, according to Rami Nakhla, coordinator of the "Day After" project. The country lacks many resources - but above all money.

"That's why we need to create a national economic council," he said, adding that a donor conference has also been planned, possibly under the auspices of the "Friends of Syria" group. For Nakhla, this is a promising way to bring necessary cash into the country.

Drastic currency depreciation

A Syrian employee, holds packets of Syrian currency in the Central Syrian Bank in, Damascus, Syria. Photo: AP Photo/Hussein Malla

The Syrian pound has lost roughly half its value

But in the short term, the country has yet another problem to grapple with - a stumbling currency. The Syrian pound has lost around half of its value since the outbreak of hostilities 17 months ago. It will be vital to stop further depreciation, but that's not the only challenge for currency policy.

"The Syrian pound was artificially inflated by the government," Tinawi said. "It's important to handle the country's reserves appropriately, so as to develop a sensible economic policy, which will include a good fiscal policy."

But Tinawi said he fears it will take years to put the Syrian economy back on its feet. The country has lived under a war economy for months.

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