UN humanitarian agencies on Friday called on donor nations to provide billions of dollars in additional funding to help millions of desperate Syrians inside and outside their country.
The appeal, which covers all of 2013, comprises US$2.9 billion for the UNHCR-led plan to help refugees in the surrounding region, and US$1.4 billion for the OCHA-led humanitarian efforts inside Syria. In addition are a new US$449 million government of Lebanon appeal and a US$380 million appeal by the government of Jordan.
In all, this is the largest-ever humanitarian appeal, together amounting to more than US$5 billion. It updates an earlier UN funding appeal, for which some US$1.2 billion has been received so far.
The appeal was unveiled to media at a press conference in Geneva's Palais des Nations by UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres and Emergency Relief Coordinator Valerie Amos, who both stressed that civilians were bearing the brunt of the conflict in Syria. More than 1.6 million people have fled to neighbouring countries since the conflict erupted in March 2011, while some 4.25 million are believed to be displaced within Syria and many more are affected by the war.
"Syria as a civilization is unraveling with as many as half of its citizens in need of urgent help as a result of this savage conflict," said Guterres. "The funds we are appealing for are a matter of survival for suffering Syrians and they are essential for neighbouring countries that are hosting refugees."
The UNHCR-led element in Friday's appeal – the Regional Response Plan – revises upwards the last appeal in December 2012, when UNHCR and its partners sought US$1 billion to provide life-saving aid and protection to Syrian refugees in the immediate surrounding region.
That appeal was based on predictions that the refugee population would be about 1.1 million in June. The figure today is 1.6 million and growing. UNHCR now estimates there could be up to 3.45 million Syrian refugees by year's end. The OCHA (UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs) appeal estimates that 6.8 million people inside Syria will be affected by the conflict and in need of help.
The fresh appeal comes a day after the European Union announced that it was contributing up to €400 million for the Syria situation until the end of the year. The EU donation is the largest so far to the Syria crisis and is expected to go towards the regional refugee response as well as humanitarian needs inside Syria.
These needs are great. In the last few months, the UN, Syrian Arab Red Crescent and other international and local humanitarian organizations in Syria have fed up to 2.4 million people per month, vaccinated more than 1 million children against measles and polio, made drinking water safe for over 9 million people and provided nearly 920,000 people with basic relief items. But this is not enough.
With new funding, humanitarian organizations aim to scale up operations and feed 4 million Syrians and 420,000 Palestinian refugees; immunize 1.7 million children; provide nearly 7 million people with health care and 10 million with safe drinking water – especially with the summer approaching and waterborne diseases on the rise. Education, protection and community services, sanitation, shelter and farming support are all vital for vulnerable communities. Finding ways to deliver aid to the 2.9 million people living across conflict lines is a top priority.
Today's new regional response plan covers only life-saving assistance and protection for refugees – further underlining the scale of the crisis. Participating humanitarian agencies are aiming to assist the most vulnerable, including members of refugee-hosting communities, with critical programmes, including food, shelter and cash assistance.
Syrians are increasingly vulnerable to many different types of exploitation, and the communities they are living with are also facing difficulties in coping with this vulnerable and impoverished population. Enhanced efforts are under way to identify and support the most vulnerable, including children, the elderly and women. More targeted programmes are being developed to support survivors of sexual and gender-based violence.
Governments in the region are also feeling the strain, with public services stretched to their limits. The generosity of host countries has come at a heavy price. The Syrian conflict is posing a threat to the entire region with dramatic implications for regional security. There are rising tensions between refugees and host communities and cross-border incidents are becoming increasingly common.
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