Since the Syrian crisis began, more than 6.5 million people have been displaced and the number of registered refugees has passed 5 million according to the UN.
The Syrian economy has suffered hugely due to the war with many struggling to make ends meet. The effect of the war on the local economies and livelihoods differs greatly depending on geographical location, which group controls the area, and of course the level of external aid.
Trust staff and Bridging Peoples’ recently conducted research into the impact of aid on local economies, focusing on the Syrian cities of Darkoush and Salquin, two cities where the declared level of humanitarian aid is low. As a result of the war the level of employment and income has suffered and many households find it difficult to meet basic needs due to rising prices. However, interestingly the majority of residents have remained in employment.
This is not as clear cut as it first may seem. Residents of Darkoush and Salquin have had to adapt as a result of changing circumstances, the sectors that they work in have changed, the level of income has suffered due to capital migration, and a ‘lost’ generation of children are now working and have become heads of their family.
Trust and Bridging People’s research shows that pre 2011 one of the main sources of employment for Darkoush and Salquin was in the private sector with 31% and 29% being employed in this sector respectively. However, the percentage of self employment was bigger in Salquin with 46% of workers in the city declaring themselves as self employed. Post 2011, the agricultural industry is still the main source of income for both cities. Although the number of people employed in this sector has fallen (to just under 90% in Darkoush and below 70% in Salquin) it remains the largest source of income. The research carried out by Trust and Bridging Peoples showed that in-kind aid such as food tends to create dependency whilst undercutting local production and distorting local markets, particularly in contexts such as Darkoush and Salquin where the agriculture sector provides the main source of income for many.
So how can the humanitarian sector support communities without weakening local economies? Humanitarian aid delivery is complex, particularly in conflict zones, and it’s impossible to get every programming decision exactly right all the time, but the research argues that a top down approach to aid delivery does not pay sufficient heed to local contexts. For example the communities in Darkoush and Salquin have been resourceful in how they have adapted to changing circumstances. The switch from large employers to small or micro businesses means that their challenges and needs have also changed. In other words it is not enough to only address the gap between household expenditure and income, there needs to be more communication with beneficiary communities to accurately gauge the best aid programming to implement and prevent unintentionally harming the livelihoods of locals.