Novel Research Paints a Detailed Picture of Economic Life in Areas Controlled by the Islamic State

October 17, 2017

A new RAND Corporation report paints a bleak picture of economic life under the Islamic State. RAND estimates that the Islamic State contributed to a 23 percent reduction in the GDP of cities under its control, based on novel applications of satellite-derived data. Over the course of the group's peak territorial control and decline through mid-2016, the economy of the Islamic State showed clear signs of decay across multiple sectors, including in local markets, electricity and agriculture. Lead author Eric Robinson is available to discuss the report.

The report offers an innovative, data-driven approach to solve the problems of measuring economic activity inside areas controlled by the Islamic State. Where traditional data are unavailable to diagnose conditions on the ground from within Islamic State-held cities, the researchers look down upon these cities from space. Using applications of commercial satellite imagery and remote sensing data, the researchers developed clear, quantitative indicators of economic activity within the Islamic State, providing insights into agricultural production, market activity, commercial vehicle traffic, industrial activity, building stock and labor supply. RAND researchers also examined the impact of the U.S.-led anti-ISIS campaign.

Furthermore, by documenting the Islamic State's economic impact throughout Iraq and Syria, this analysis offers critical insights into the stabilization needs of areas liberated from the group.

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