"Oil is the only thing that Syria has going for it," Landis, a Syrian expert and professor at the University of Oklahoma, told Bloomberg News. "Farming has collapsed and that is why we are seeing this outflow of refugees. They are starving. They don't have the basics to sustain them."
European Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Response Kristalina Georgieva said there are 1.3 million refugees due to the Syrian war.
The European Union this week eased sanctions so oil could be exported from Syrian territory controlled by anti-government forces. The U.S. Energy Department's Energy Information Administration says almost all of Syrian crude oil exports went to European markets before war began in 2011.
Landis said there's virtually no hope for Syrian economic recovery regardless of who controls the oil.
"Syria is not going to be able to right itself until it can establish a reasonable economic regime and oil is at the heart of that," he said.
Syria holds proven oil reserves of around 2.5 billion barrels, more than any of its neighbors apart from Iraq.