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Syrian official estimates civil war losses at $15 billion

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By The Associated Press
Sunday, June 30, 2013, 9:06 p.m.
 

More than two years of fighting in Syria's civil war has damaged about 9,000 state buildings and run up $15 billion in losses to the public sector, a government minister said on Sunday, shining a light on the devastating toll the crisis has taken on the country's economy.

Syria's civil war has laid waste to entire neighborhoods in the nation's cities and towns, destroyed much of its manufacturing base and infrastructure and brought oil production and exports to a halt.

The damage to the nation's human resources has been just as severe. More than a million people have fled the country and millions more are displaced within it. According to a U.N. estimate, more than 93,000 people have been killed.

In comments published in Syrian newspapers, Local Administration Minister Omar Al Ibrahim Ghalaounji said the $15 billion in damage to the public sector was sustained between March 2011, when the uprising against President Bashar Assad began, and March 2013. He said they were the result of “terrorist attacks on government buildings and infrastructure.”

The government commonly refers to those fighting to topple the Assad regime as “terrorists.”

Former Syrian Planning Minister Abdullah al-Dardari, who leads a six-member U.N. team drawing up a comprehensive postwar reconstruction plan, recently estimated the overall damage to Syria's economy at $60 billion to $80 billion.

He said Syria's economy has shrunk by about 35 percent, compared with the 6 percent annual growth Syria enjoyed in the five years before the conflict began. The economy lost almost 40 percent of its GDP, and foreign reserves have been extensively depleted, he said.

Unemployment has shot up from 500,000 before the crisis to at least 2.5 million this year, he said.

Syria's currency plunged to a record low last month following a U.S. decision to arm rebel groups. The Syrian pound currently trades at about 200 to the dollar, compared with 47 before the crisis.

When the conflict began, the government had about $17 billion in foreign currency reserves. Those have dropped from blows to two main pillars of the economy: oil exports, which used to bring in up to $8 million per day, and tourism, which in 2010 earned $8 billion. U.S. and European Union bans on oil imports are estimated to cost Syria about $400 million a month.

The government did not say how much currency it has left in its reserves, but the London-based Economist Intelligence Unit estimates it at a little more than $4.5 billion.

After the currency dive, Iran — one of Assad's strongest allies believed to have supplied his government with billions of dollars since the crisis began — quickly stepped in, offering a $1 billion credit line to help shore up the pound.

The weak pound has triggered a hike in prices, squeezing a Syrian population already beleaguered by the fighting.

To compensate people, a presidential decree last week offered a raise for the public sector, saying it could reach up to 40 percent depending on the salary of the civil servant. Pensions could also rise by up to 25 percent, the decree said.

Many Syrians complain they can barely make ends meet.

“Living in Syria is like being in a burning hell,” a Damascus resident said Sunday via Skype. He identified himself only as Abu Khaled, fearing government retribution. “It's the rising prices on the one side, the war on the other, and in between killings and kidnappings, lack of security and bombs and rockets falling on our heads and homes.”

In the long-run, the economic pinch could hamper the Assad regime's ability to fund his efforts to quell the armed rebellion.

In recent weeks, however, government forces — bolstered by an influx of fighters from Lebanon's Hezbollah militant group — have clawed back ground lost to rebels over the past year, most importantly the strategic town of Qusair near the Lebanese border.

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