OTTAWA – Syrian activist Elias Sadkni remembers walking through the main markets of the Syrian city Aleppo, looking at stalls that had been there hundreds of years.Over the last five years of the Syrian civil war, many of those stalls have been bombed and burned and their owners are now long gone.A World Vision study released Tuesday estimates the Syrian economy has lost US$275 billion since the war broke out, measured by taking stock not just of the markets destroyed but the loss of human capital as well. Story continues below
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Sadkni, 31, says all of his childhood friends have now fled the country.So has he, having first tried to come to Canada in 2010 as a skilled worker. Delays with his application took him down a different route – a scholarship to a U.K. university that he’s now putting to work running a non-governmental organization for Syrians in Lebanon.It’s estimated that half of Syria’s doctors have left. One out of every four schools has been destroyed or is now being used for shelter. Thousands of teachers are gone, too.“This is a loss that will never be reversed,” Sadkni said of the flight of Syria’s most educated.“People who are leaving to find a better life in Europe or in Canada, when they settle down with their families, their kids in schools, I doubt that they will come back to Syria soon.”Peace talks are scheduled to resume in Geneva this week aimed at ending the war. But on Tuesday, MPs will vote on the Liberal plan to retool Canada’s role in the fight against Islamic militants in Iraq and Syria.The vote is symbolic. Parliament does not legally need to authorize these kinds of campaigns. Part of the Liberal plan – ending the airstrikes against militants in both countries – has already happened.Sadkni said he supported ending the bombing campaign. When asked why, he gave a simple answer: “To save lives. Isn’t it enough?”But another major piece of the Liberal plan has yet to be rolled out: the specifics of how and when $1.1 billion in aid and development funding connected to the revamped mission will start being spent.Sadkni eventually received his permanent residency card for Canada but continues his work abroad. As he meets with MPs this week, he’ll tell them Syrians need both urgent humanitarian assistance and longer term development.Making good on the promise to resettle 25,000 refugees also sent a message Canadians are serious about helping and that should be leveraged, he said.“They can use their reputation with this new government, this new prime minister, to be involved more in the political process because they are not aligned with some party.”A spokesperson for International Development Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau said there have been no final decisions yet on what projects will be funded. Most of the money will go towards humanitarian assistance.But about $270 million is earmarked for both Syria and nearby countries struggling under the weight of an influx of refugees, and will include funds to help fix schools, improve local water supplies and sanitary facilities, Bernard Boutin said in an e-mail.“These programs will help create jobs, increase children’s access to education and ensure that people have access to the essential services they so desperately need,” he said.The World Vision report estimated the cost of the conflict by looking at what Syria’s economic growth most likely would have been had the war never broken out.The amount lost is equivalent to six times of what Canada spends each year on primary and secondary education, said Michael Messenger, president of World Vision Canada.“If we as an international community don’t reach peace, we are denying the children of Syria the opportunity for a prosperous future for likely at least a generation,” he said.