EMNES working Paper 29 – Syria in the dark : estimating the economic consequences of the civil war through satellite-derived night lights
February 27, 2020
The Syrian Civil War begun in 2011 and is still wreaking enormous damages on the country’s economy, with a significant toll measured in deaths, migration, and the destruction of Syria’s historical heritage and physical infrastructure.
This paper examines the impact of the War on Syria’s economy from the perspective of outer space, by-passing the issue of data availability due to the inaccessibility of the war-ravaged territory.
The study’s contribution to literature is threefold: first, we estimate the elasticity of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth to variation in Night Lights for a balanced panel of 13 Middle Eastern and North African countries. This is in order to obtain alternative measurements of GDP growth and loss potentially overcoming issues resulting from governmental distortion of official statistics in wartime; secondly, we calculate the loss in Syrian GDP after 2011 according to this methodology. We obtain more pessimistic estimates than those reported by international organisations. Finally, extrapolating GDP loss from a spatial analysis of Night Lights reduction, we provide long-term projections for the country’s economy and estimate the window for GDP recovery to pre-war levels. We discuss geo-political implications which could prevent our projections from happening.