On December 17, 2010, Tarek el-Tayeb Mohamed Bouazizi, a Tunisian street vendor, set himself alight provoking riots in Tunisia and the onset of what became known as the Arab Spring. After six years of revolution and war in many parts of the Arab world, the loss of life and damage has been huge, largely because of the civil war in Syria, but also due to the conflicts in Iraq, Libya, and Yemen. Some of the conflicts, such as those in Sudan, Somalia, and Gaza, had been going on for years prior to the 2010-2011 Arab Spring and they were soon overshadowed by more recent events. As a result, the Middle East has become the most conflict-prone region in the world both in terms of the number of conflicts and their intensity (see Chart 1).
Chart 1: Conflict in the Middle East
Chart 2: Terrorist attacks and their victims in the Arab Regions versus the rest of the World, 2000-2014
Source: Arab Human Development Report, 2016
The International Monetary Fund has identified four mains types of economic effects resulting from the conflicts in the region. The first is due to the loss of life, internal displacement, and the movement of refugees over the border. Since 2010, when the war started in Syria, 7.6 million people have been internally displaced and more than 5 million have fled to other, mostly neighboring, countries. Together, they accounted for about 55 percent of the 2010 population. In Iraq, some 4.4 million people have been internally displaced and in Yemen 2.5 million. In 2010, there were about five million displaced persons in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). In 2015, there were 20 million. In 2010, there were about six million refugees from MENA living outside their country of origin; by 2015 the number had risen to about 15 million. This means that a total of 35 million people have fled their homes.
Vital services such as education and health have been damaged. In Syria, the school dropout rate rose to 52 percent in 2013. Between 2010 and 2014, life expectancy, which is a proxy for the quality of health services, fell from 76 years to 56 years. These trends have long term effects in terms of a less well educated and less healthy population. The deterioration of education and health reduces the productive potential of the economy, while that in health raises costs.
The displacement of people within their country of origin and their movement abroad as refugees have been unprecedented. This has imposed huge costs on neighboring countries (see Iqtisadi: "How Jordan Survives: Part 2," October 2016). The Middle East has also generated one of the highest numbers of internally displaced persons (IDPs) and refugees in the world (see Chart 3). A large proportion of refugees are skilled workers and this represents a significant brain drain from countries in conflict.
Chart 3: Internally Displaced Persons and Refugees: MENA and the World