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Mainstream provision of emergency, humanitarian aid across the world tends to be largely focused on two modalities: giving food baskets, or providing conditional vouchers (for community members to exchange for food & other necessities at designated local businesses.) These have also been the main modalities of aid provision in northern Syria since the conflict began.

In partnership with Trust Consultancy & Development, the primary objective of this research was to better understand the impact of this type of aid in northern Syria on local economic activity, to support programming options for the future.

Because there have been many economic shocks that come about because of war, and unrelated to aid provision, the research team undertook a retrospective survey to compare the economic situation from 2011 before the conflict began, and in 2015 when fieldwork was conducted. Emergent themes were then analysed and explored via in-depth interviews and focus group discussions with Syrian community leaders, local businesses, farmers, civil society representatives and community members. To encourage uptake of findings among NGOs responsible for aid provision, these findings were shared during a validation workshop to discuss programming options. Fieldwork was conducted in the cities of Darkoush and Salquin in Idleb, with a total 256 respondents.

One of the most important findings was that there had been a proliferation of small and micro-businesses opening between 2011 and 2015, as other sources of livelihoods dried up and community members turned to self-employment in order to survive the war. However, this economic adaptation has generally not been supported by the ‘top down’ provision of humanitarian aid, with many missed opportunities, and a general failure to support existing capacities and efforts of community members. This has resulted in increasing levels of local economic dependency, with many local farmers and market vendors unable to compete against the ‘free’ food that was being provided, and then re-sold on the market.

Research results clearly indicated a need to support small and micro-businesses along the entire value chain—accompanied by unconditional vouchers or cash transfers for the most vulnerable community members.