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The uprisings that became known as the Arab Spring were sparked in December 2010, when a young Tunisian fruit seller set himself on fire in response to harassment from police officers. Within months, huge protests had spread throughout the Arab world, taking down autocratic governments in four countries, but also sparking horrific civil wars and giving fuel to religious and sectarian extremism in the region.
Now a new report from the United Nations suggests that the turmoil in the years since 2010 has left a heavy economic imprint in the Arab region in particular, leading to a net loss of $613.8 billion in economic activity, or around 6 percent of GDP from 2011 to 2015.
The lengthy report, published by the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) on Thursday, used estimates of growth made before 2011 to help understand this loss. It is the first report of its kind to be made by a major economic body, and while it only focuses on the economic situation, it provides a rare quantification of the cost of the Arab Spring for the region's inhabitants.
ESCWA noted that it wasn't just the conflict and political turmoil in the region that hurt its economic situation low oil prices have also led to a sharp decline in export revenues for many Arab economies over the past year. However, conflict is noted as one of the largest drivers of the economic loss. The Syrian war, now in its sixth year, is estimated to have caused GDP and capital losses of $259 billion since 2011, according to estimates from another U.N. group, the National Agenda for the Future of Syria.
The report does point to some glimmers of hope, noting, for example, that in other regions, conflict and regime change has eventually had a long-term positive impact on countries. However, political transitions in the Arab world have not largely not helped economic growth, the report finds, in part because there have not been reforms that addressed the issues that led to the Arab Spring unrest.
The conflicts have also had huge social implications, including large-scale population displacement and rising unemployment in countries that underwent conflict or those that have received refugees due to conflicts in neighboring countries.