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The Syrian Civil War is the largest ongoing military conflict in the world, already claiming a total of at least 167,000 lives* since civil unrest first erupted in March 2011 on the heels of the Arab Spring. Human life is one measure of a wars devastation. Today, we examine the devastation of war from an economic perspective: international trade.  The disruption in Syrian trade has already lowered its ranking globally from the 88th largest exporter in 2011 to the 141st in 2015.

  • Syria experienced the world's second largest loss of total foreign trade from 2011 to 2015, with exports decreasing by 88 percent and imports by 72 percent. Greater trade losses were experienced only by Aruba, a highly import-dependent island that is economically oriented to tourism and hospitality and financial and business services.
  • The decrease of foreign trade has affected virtually all commodities. There were some minor exceptions. Syrian exports of motor vehicles, fuel wood, and flat-rolled products of alloy steel grew from 2011 to 2015, however, combined these goods constituted less than 0.05 percent of the country's total exports in 2010.
  • The hit to foreign trade was indiscriminate by trade partner as well. Syrian exports to 40 of its trading partners decreased by almost 100 percent (99% or more).

Humanitarian aid has partially offset some of Syria’s loss in merchandise imports. Amounting to roughly $4.5 billion in 2015, aid was almost equal to Syria's total merchandise imports that same year. These numbers should be used and considered with due caution given reporting lapses and losses that go hand-in-hand with a country in civil war.

  • Trade data is not immune to reporting discrepancies, particularly when relying on one country’s exports (say exports of Russia) to estimate another country’s imports (say imports by Syria), or what is known as “mirror partner” trade statistics. According to official data from the United Nations Statistics, since 2011, Syria’s trade in the very fuel of conflict, namely arms and ammunition, has collapsed with Russia—its primary trading partner for these goods.

Learn more about Syria’s trade profile and arms and ammunition trade below in today’s Viz of the Day.


* The death toll from the Syrian Civil War varies widely among sources. Visit these sources to learn more: Uppsala Conflict Data Program, and the Syrian Revolution Martyr Database.

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