In an interview with Zaman al-Wasl, Dr. Osama Qadi, the head of the “Syrian Economic Taskforce” said Syria’s debt to Iran has reached $35 billion and the debt to Russia exceeds that amount.
Dr. Qadi told Zaman al-Wasl that studies estimate that rebuilding houses destroyed in the fighting will require more than 2 billion US dollars and that Aleppo comes first in terms of the amount of destruction followed by Suburb of Damascus province.
Qadi saw that a political solution is the only solution for Syria not to emerge from the war a debt-riddled country, but he connected this to the opposition delegation’s ability to propose such files in any negotiation process.
Here we will present parts of the interview.
Z- Syria’s debts to Iran and Russia reach into the billions. In the event of a political settlement, what will the legal situation of these debts be?
Q- The legal reality says that the debts which the regime imposed on the Syrian people are binding since the regime still has embassies across the world, especially the regime ambassador to the United Nations. However, these debts are dependent on the nature of the political solution, the opposition delegation’s negotiation powers, and the attention they give to this issue.
In reality, the massive Russian and Iranian debts are a threat to Syria’s economic future. However, the more dangerous issue is the contracts and agreements the Syrian regime and its governments signed after March 2011, the last of which gave Iran the right to invest in an oil port and lands reaching up to 5000 meters squared. Other than allowing Iran to enter the communication market in Syria and what that entails from security and economic ramifications. The regime has also sold public institutions and government land. The contracts signed with Russia give the Russians the rights to dig and extract oil from all parts of Syria.
Z- Are there any solutions to solve this dilemma?
Q- The Syrian negotiating delegation must insist on a comprehensive political solution and insist on including a clause that the transitional governing committee or the future Syrian governmental body will not be bound to any contracts or documents signed by the regime after March 2011. The opposition accepting any of these will be like keeping a timed bomb that threatens the stability of the future of the Syrian state and may cause the next international crisis.
Z- Fourteen Economic Reports to Rescue the Syrian Economy, what does the “Syrian Economic Taskforce” present to Syria?
Q- Syrian Economic Taskforce is an independent non-profit research group supported by some Syrian businessmen. Its primary task is to raise economic awareness and be present in the media on the Syrian economic scene. The Taskforce also tries to attend international events to explain the complexities of the Syrian economic situation.
We presented 14 economic reports under the theme, “An Economic Map for The New Syria.” These reports present a preliminary view for a rescue plan, and mid and long-term plans for the actions the coming Syrian government must undertake in ten economic sectors including agriculture, water, fuel, transportation, residence, industry and other sectors.
We presented 17 economic reports under the theme “The Syrian Economic Scene” which focus on the ways Syrian areas and districts are run administratively and economically. The reports show how people in Azaz, al-Tabaqa, Armanaz, Haritan, and other districts live and what their economic resources are. We also present an economic study focused on the safe zone in northern Syria and its economic and residential possibilities. We were partners with the Friends of Syria Group, headed by Germany and the United Arab Emirates, which is concerned with the reconstruction of Syria.
We were the Syrian side in two principal conferences, the Abu Dhabi Conference in March 2012 and another conference held in Dubai in 2012 entitled ‘Partnership to Invest in Future Syria.’ Hundreds of Syrian and non-Syrian businessmen attended the second conference. We have been addressing the issues of the Syrian economy in the media since the first days of the Syrian revolution, and we conducted hundreds of journalistic and media meetings. We wrote the economic discourse for the Syrian revolution, contributed to the economic division of The Day After project, and headed the economic division in reports mapping the democratic transition to paint a picture of the future features of Syria’s economy.
Z- What is the general cost so far to rebuild Syria?
Q-Sadly with each new day of destruction, the cost increases and conservative estimates of the economic loss exceed 300 billion US dollars, and the price of reconstruction depends, in the first place, on a detailed statistical field study which is not available at present for security reasons. So preparing a central statistical office that uses the most advanced methodologies based on international standards will be the most important issue after the end of this nightmare.
The Taskforce dedicated an extensive report on the issue, and it is dependent on the transitional Syrian government which must be limited in my opinion, to independent technocrats characterized by their transparency, responsibility and maturity, and not a government of quotas for different countries or Syrian political parties. Reducing the cost of reconstruction is also dependent on the sponsors of the political solution.
If the solution is dividing up the reconstruction cake regardless of the interests of the Syrian people it will be a fiscal catastrophe and ESCWA- the United Nations estimated that the cost of only building houses would be around 700 billion Syrian pounds, so less than 2 billion US dollars and this is a very low estimate.
Z- What are the most destroyed cities?
Q- According to the ESCWA-UN recent study, Aleppo and its countryside are considered the most destroyed cities especially after the Russian intervention in September 2015 and following the policy of burnt land especially in Eastern Aleppo where half the houses, an estimated 424,000 houses, were completely or partially destroyed. Damascus Suburbs follows Aleppo, where half the homes in the area, an estimated 303,000 houses were destroyed. In Homs, listed third in the report, around 200,000 houses were destroyed. Idlib came fourth in the report with around 156,000 destroyed houses.
Daraa province came fifth with around 105,000 destroyed houses. The report does not include the damage to fertile land as a result of the chemical and poisonous components of rockets fired at land. These damages will affect agriculture in Syria for many years. The report did not mention the damages to infrastructure from water, electricity, roads, schools, hospitals and other accompanying institutions to guarantee a dignified life.
Z- In the event of reconstruction what are the mechanisms and how will it reflect on Syrian citizens’ whose houses have been destroyed?
Q- The coming Syrian technocratic government must follow mechanisms and policies based on an overview dependent on international standards and mature governance.
The government must take advantage of these terrible conditions with the hope it can reorganize Syrian cities according to the highest professional standards for Syria to begin building modern, healthy, and harmonious cities using alternative energy and benefiting from international experience in this regard. There are many creative ways the coming government can rely on to spare Syrian citizens from paying any costs.
The government must use its international relations or its expertise. As well as ensuring that there is a minimum level of security that can attract Syrian, Arab and international capital because the government will not be able to convince Syrian or non-Syrian investors to invest in housing without ensuring investors and their money.
During 5-7 years the problem of housing displaced persons and migrants in civilized houses, to compensate them for some of their suffering, can be solved. This is the least the government can provide to the Syrian people.
Z- Knowing the size of destruction incurred in Aleppo in your estimation how much will it cost to reconstruct Aleppo to return it to the way it was?
Q- Destruction is a word that applies to housing, infrastructure, and the human element from the work of laborers, farmers, artisans, and public employees. Reactivating the industrial area in al-Sheikh Najjar area, and more than 15 other industrial areas in Aleppo is as important as rebuilding housing because it creates job opportunities and returns life to the city for its people, who have lost so much, for them to return to the city.
However, the destruction of around half a million houses in Aleppo will require no less than five billion US dollars to rehouse people in civilized and respectful houses and not in unauthorized housing which was the case with half the housing in Syria. This will take an average of five years.