Syria's civil war has inflicted such carnage that in some districts of Damascus three quarters of homes have been damaged and more than 90 percent of residents say they need help to survive, according to a U.N. survey released on Wednesday.
Three years of conflict have devastated the country, destroying infrastructure and reducing some neighborhoods to ruin. But the ongoing violence has meant there have been few detailed studies into the scale of its impact.
The United Nations agency UNRWA, which supports Palestinian refugees, said it questioned more than 500 people last June about living conditions in four districts of Damascus where UNRWA operates and one in the northern city of Aleppo.
More than two thirds of the total had fled their homes, with the rate rising to 89 percent in the Palestinian district of Yarmouk in southern Damascus. Over half said their homes had been damaged, while three areas on the outskirts of Damascus - Yarmouk, Douma and Sayida Zeinab - recorded damage at between 72 to 79 percent.
"This is the first study of its kind and provides hard statistical evidence for the tragic and widespread impact the conflict is having on lives and livelihoods across Syria," UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness said.
Syria's conflict erupted in March 2011 when protests against President Bashar al-Assad were put down with force. The uprising became an armed insurgency and descended into civil war in which Assad's forces have used Scud missiles and air strikes and both sides have fired rockets and tanks shells into cities. More than 150,000 people have been killed, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group.
Those questioned in the UNRWA survey had all received microfinance loans to support their businesses or households. The agency said the impact of the armed conflict on respondents had been "overwhelming and traumatic".
By June 2013 only 13 percent of those businesses were still operating. Many had been closed down by their owners, and nearly 40 percent had been robbed or looted, according to the survey. Partly as a result of that, the vast majority of respondents said they had suffered a fall in income, at the same time as basic commodities have doubled in price.
"This has pushed many families to the brink of survival, with almost half of all clients living on income from day to day," the report said. "Almost a fifth of clients (were) without any source of income." It concluded that a significant proportion of people surveyed faced "severe hardship and deprivation", with 86 percent indicating they needed help to survive.
"This need was especially felt in Sayida Zeinab, Yarmouk and Bustan al-Basha (in Aleppo), where over 90 percent claimed they needed humanitarian assistance if their families were to live."
"However, as just 38 percent of households indicated that they had received such assistance, a huge humanitarian assistance gap remains."