Syria flag Syria: Economic and Political Overview

The economic context of Syria

Economic Indicators

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Syria has been plagued by a devastating war since 2011. According to a study published by the World Bank, the conflict would have caused a contraction of the GDP of -12% on average between 2011 and 2018, and the humanitarian crisis has claimed between 400,000 and 470,000 victims. The Syrian economy, which reached 60.5 billion USD in 2010, is now between 24.5 and 28.5 billion USD. However, it is extremely difficult to assess the financial health of the country as the wartime GDP can be very unstable due to foreign aid and continued destruction. The return of several provinces under the control of the Bashar Al-Assad regime was expected to restore a certain stability necessary for the start of reconstruction and economic recovery. However, the Lebanese crisis, the new sanctions imposed by the United States and the outbreak of COVID-19 further deteriorated the situation since 2020. Real GDP is expected to contract further in 2022, due to the ongoing conflict and the pandemic (The Economist Intelligence Unit).
With the help of his Russian and Iranian allies, Bashar Al-Assad has regained control of most of Syrian territory and considers himself victorious in an essentially ended war. But the country is in ruins, the destruction of the physical capital of the country being estimated at around 120 billion USD, and the estimated loss in GDP at nearly 325 billion USD (UNESCWA). The long-awaited reconstruction does not materialize. Businesses face energy and water shortages and are regularly shaken by liquidity shortage. International sanctions have practically frozen trade with the outside world and neighbouring partner countries (Iran, Lebanon) are facing economic and financial difficulties. Impacted by the Lebanese crisis since 2019, tougher US sanctions under the Caesar Act and the COVID-19 pandemic, Syria's economy deteriorated further since 2020. The Syrian pound that collapsed since 2019, reached new historically low levels in March 2021, trading around 4,000 pounds for 1 USD (against 500 pounds for 1 USD in early 2019 and less than 50 pounds for 1 USD before the start of the conflict). Northern Syria suffered from the collapse in the value of the Turkish lira, which is the main currency adopted in the Idlib region. With soaring inflation, food and fuel have become unaffordable. In addition, as the water of the Euphrates River has declined to its lowest level, the north-east of Syria is experiencing a water crisis and drought since summer 2021. In this context, the economic recovery seems difficult, especially since the Western powers will participate in the reconstruction effort only in exchange of a political transition. Reflecting the depth of the crisis, the 2022 budget is the smallest since 2011 (USD 5.3 billion), and the budget deficit is projected at USD 1.6 billion (Alarabiya).

On the humanitarian level, the situation is catastrophic. About 6.2 million people have been internally displaced and 5.6 million are officially registered as refugees (World Bank). The social situation of the country was already serious before the crisis: a third of the population lived below the poverty line, unemployment affected 20% of the population (75% of the unemployed were aged 15 to 24) and the demographic growth rate was very high (3.3% per year). Since the start of the war, the situation has only gotten worse. The middle class has disappeared. According to UN estimates, more than 80% of the population now lives below the poverty line and half of the population is unemployed (CIA Factbook). The Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) has estimated the total cost of the Syrian reconstruction at USD 388 billion, but could reach USD 600 billion based on other estimates. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) estimates that between March 2011 and March 2019, the conflict left 570,000 people dead. Since 2020, the US sanctions and the COVID-19 outbreak worsened the situation, and food insecurity dramatically increasing. According to the World Food Program, 12.4 million Syrian are now food insecure, an almost 60% of the country’s population.

 
Main Indicators 201920202021 (e)2022 (e)2023 (e)
GDP (billions USD) 0.000.000.000.000.00
GDP (Constant Prices, Annual % Change) 0.00.00.00.00.0
GDP per Capita (USD) 00000
General Government Gross Debt (in % of GDP) 0.00.00.00.00.0
Inflation Rate (%) 0.00.00.00.00.0
Unemployment Rate (% of the Labour Force) 0.00.00.00.00.0
Current Account (billions USD) 0.000.000.000.000.00
Current Account (in % of GDP) 0.00.00.00.00.0

Source: IMF – World Economic Outlook Database, October 2021

Note: (e) Estimated Data

Main Sectors of Industry

Syria’s long civil war has caused the near collapse of the economic output. Much of the infrastructure was destroyed and the economic sanctions are limiting access to financing. The Lebanese crisis, the tougher sanctions introduced by the Caesar Act and the COVID-19 outbreak further impacted all economic sectors.

Before the war and the series of sanctions the country has faced since 2011, Syria mostly exported raw materials (crude oil, cotton, cereals and phosphates). Agriculture represented nearly 20% of its GDP (CIA, 2017 est.) and is estimated to employ 10% of the workforce (World Bank, 2020 est.); agriculture has always been a fragile sector since it directly depends on climate conditions and especially on water scarcity, a key regional factor. In 2021, decline in irrigated land area, low precipitation, and fuel shortages adversely affected wheat crops. The water of the Euphrates River has declined to its lowest level, pushing Syria into a water crisis and drought (Enab Baladi). Spices, olive and olive oil, cotton, wheat and barley are among main crops and exports.

Industry had a relatively important place, owing to textile, chemical and oil industries, the latter representing 14% of the Syrian GDP prior to the war. Industry, as a whole, accounts for 18.5% of the economy and employs around 23% of the workforce (World Bank). The hydrocarbon sector is essential to the Syrian economy and contributes up to 65% of the country’s exports. Oil production has now been reduced.

The tertiary sector, mainly the tourism sector, was well established prior to civil war and currently represents 42.1% of GDP (World Bank). Despite the war, a number of foreign banks are still operating. The sector of services is estimated to employ 67% of the workforce (World Bank).

 
Breakdown of Economic Activity By Sector Agriculture Industry Services
Employment By Sector (in % of Total Employment) 10.1 23.2 66.7
Value Added (in % of GDP) 19.5 35.9 n/a
Value Added (Annual % Change) 7.8 -2.6 n/a

Source: World Bank, Latest Available Data. Because of rounding, the sum of the percentages may be smaller/greater than 100%.

 

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Indicator of Economic Freedom

Definition:

The Economic freedom index measure ten components of economic freedom, grouped into four broad categories or pillars of economic freedom: Rule of Law (property rights, freedom from corruption); Limited Government (fiscal freedom, government spending); Regulatory Efficiency (business freedom, labour freedom, monetary freedom); and Open Markets (trade freedom, investment freedom, financial freedom). Each of the freedoms within these four broad categories is individually scored on a scale of 0 to 100. A country’s overall economic freedom score is a simple average of its scores on the 10 individual freedoms.}}

Score:
N/A/100
World Rank:
N/A
Regional Rank:
N/A

Economic freedom in the world (interactive map)
Source: Index of Economic Freedom, Heritage Foundation

 
 

Country Risk

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Sources of General Economic Information

Ministries
Ministry of the Economy
Ministry of Finance (in Arabic)
Statistical Office
Central Bureau of Statistics
Central Bank
Central Bank of Syria
Stock Exchange
Damascus Securities Exchange
Economic Portals
Library of Congress
Dmoz
Araboo
 

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Latest Update: May 2022