Middle East

How have ordinary Syrians been affected by the conflict?

Syrian women Image copyright Getty Images

More than 250,000 Syrians have lost their lives and more than 11 million have fled their homes in four and a half years of civil war. And in the past year, air strikes against so-called Islamic State (IS) in the country have increased, with the UK recently joining the US-led coalition.

The realities of day-to-day life for ordinary Syrians tend to get lost amid the depictions of the horrors of the conflict, the complicated fault-lines and political agendas.

A recent report from Damascus by Channel 4's Lindsey Hilsum was a rare exception, focusing on a bus station where travellers from Raqqa were preparing to head home to territory held by IS after visiting the capital to see relatives, buy provisions or, in the case of one elderly woman, to collect their state pension.

In 2011, there were 21 million Syrians living in the country, according to the state statistics agency.

Since then, more than four million have registered with the UN as refugees in neighbouring countries, and almost half a million have applied for asylum in Europe.

The remaining population is probably not more than 16 million, and about half of these people have fled their homes to seek relative safety elsewhere within Syria.

According to the UN, there are 12.2 million Syrians in need of humanitarian assistance, almost half of them children. The UN itself meets some of these needs through providing food, healthcare, sanitation and some education.

However, its operations are concentrated in the areas controlled by the government. People living in rebel-held areas depend on supplies from non-governmental organisations (NGOs), such as the Syrian Recovery Trust Fund, which works directly with local communities in coordination with the opposition's interim government.

The Syrian government has sought to maintain the impression it is continuing to function despite the crisis.

Most Syrian families, even in areas controlled by the opposition or IS, continue to have some contact with the government.

There are an estimated 1.5 million people still on the government payroll, including civil servants and teachers living outside the government-controlled areas.

However, the government has limited revenue.

It no longer exports oil, which previously accounted for about one-fifth of state budget revenue, and income from tax and customs has dwindled.

The state gets by through printing money and through credit lines for Iran, which supplies enough oil to keep one of the country's main refineries operating at about two-thirds of its capacity.

Syria's economy has contracted by more than half since the start of the conflict.

The purchasing power of the Syrian pound has collapsed over the course of the conflict, as the exchange rate has fallen from about 50 Syrian pounds to the dollar to more than 300 today.

The average state salary is only worth about $100 (£65) per month, compared with an estimated household requirement of at least $400 (£260). Many Syrians depend on funds sent from relatives abroad, often in bundles of cash via couriers and brokers.

Not all Syrians are suffering though. Business groups that enjoy the patronage of the security state make profits from hoarding scarce commodities and through levying fees at the dozens of checkpoints through which people and goods must pass.

However, for most Syrians, life is grim, and the longer the conflict goes on the worse are the prospects for their economic future.

David Butter is an associate fellow in the Middle East and North Africa programme at the think tank Chatham House, which is running the Syria and its Neighbours Policy Initiative.

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