Syria crisis: UN launches record $6.5bn aid appeal

 

The BBC's Jim Muir on aid distribution at a refugee camp in Arsal, Lebanon

The United Nations has announced its biggest ever appeal, seeking $6.5bn (£4bn; 4.7bn euros) for humanitarian aid to Syria.

The UN estimates nearly three-quarters of Syria's 22.4 million population will need humanitarian aid in 2014.

The appeal coincides with a new study by the International Rescue Committee, which warns that starvation is now threatening the Syrian population.

Bread prices have risen by 500% in some areas, according to the report.

Four out of five Syrians said their greatest worry was that food would run out, the survey found.

Where Syrian refugees are

  • 838,000 in Lebanon
  • 567,000 in Jordan
  • 540,000 in Turkey
  • 207,000 in Iraq
  • 129,000 in Egypt
  • 6.5 million others displaced inside Syria

(Source: UNHCR)

'Terrifying situation'

In total, the UN is asking for almost $13bn to fund its humanitarian operations next year.

Some $2.3bn are destined for civilians inside Syria, while $4.2bn would go to Syrian refugees in neighbouring countries.

The latest call exceeds the UN's record appeal for $4.4bn in June, of which only 60% has been funded so far.

"We're facing a terrifying situation here where, by the end of 2014, substantially more of the population of Syria could be displaced or in need of humanitarian help than not," said UN High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres.

UN humanitarian envoy Baroness Amos: "They say to me 'why has the world abandoned us?'"

"This goes beyond anything we have seen in many, many years, and makes the need for a political solution all the much greater."

Ahead of the launch, UN humanitarian chief Valerie Amos described the Syrian situation as "one of the biggest crises in modern times".

Start Quote

In a punishing war, bread is now a barometer of Syrians' suffering. Even their most basic food has become hard to find, even harder to afford.”

End Quote

She said Syrian refugees "think the world has forgotten about them".

The UN estimates that some 6.3 million people have been internally displaced since the conflict broke out in March 2011.

More than two million Syrians have fled to neighbouring countries, including Lebanon and Turkey.

The UN is becoming impatient with some richer states for not helping its efforts, the BBC's Imogen Foulkes reports.

UN officials will be pressing Syria's neighbours Saudi Arabia and Qatar, which have apparently not offered the UN any money, our correspondent adds.

Child walks during snow fall in the Duma neighbourhood of Damascus (13 December 2013) Winter storm "Alexa" has brought freezing temperatures to Syria and neighbouring countries
Syrian refugees gather around a fire in a Syrian refugee camp in the Lebanese border town of Arsal (13 December 2013) Syrians gather around a fire in a refugee camp near the Lebanese border town of Arsal

Nearly half of those who have remained in Syria now rely on aid, according to the UN.

Circumstances have worsened further with the onset of harsh winter weather.

International aid agencies say they have been struggling to provide medical aid to the sick and wounded because of fierce fighting between the forces of President Bashar al-Assad and the rebels.

Ahmed Maher looks at the facts, figures and reasons for the conflict in Syria

Civilians targeted

IRC President David Miliband said the his organisation's latest survey showed "that starvation is now threatening large parts of the Syrian population".

Analysis

Despite the huge needs, the UN is unlikely to get all the money it wants. It is almost unheard of for a UN appeal to be 100% funded: this year's request for Syria is only 60% funded, the request for the Central African Republic stands at less than 50%.

The reasons for shortfalls are complex: some traditional donors (Europe, the United States) are struggling with financial deficits. And with some crises, Syria is one of them, donors are worried their money may end up in the wrong hands.

But the UN is also impatient with some wealthy countries who have so far contributed very little to Syria. China, despite its booming economy, is thought to have offered less than $1m, while Syria's neighbours Saudi Arabia and Qatar have apparently not offered the UN any cash at all. Behind the scenes, the UN will be lobbying these countries in particular.

He called the Syrian conflict "the defining humanitarian crisis of this century so far".

"In a situation where civilians are targeted by snipers or bombs, where doctors are targeted because they've treated the 'wrong' side, and where aid workers are unable to cross conflict lines because the norms of war are not being followed and international humanitarian law is being broken, then obviously nothing is ever enough," he told the BBC.

Also on Monday Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad reaffirmed that "there will be more access and more co-operation" with the UN in the delivery of assistance.

The Syrian authorities have been accused of intentionally withholding aid from rebel-held areas.

Ms Amos said UN officials would "explore exactly what the means in terms of our ability to go to the hard-to-reach areas and the besieged areas".

In a report released last week, Amnesty International accused European Union leaders of "miserably failing" to provide a safe haven to Syrian refugees.

Only 10 member states had offered to take in refugees and even then only 12,000, it complained. The UK and Italy had offered no places at all, the organisation said.

The Syria humanitarian crisis explained

At Monday's appeal, Mr Guterres urged European countries to "keep their borders open".

"It is essential that Syrian refugees don't perish to get to Europe. It's essential that adequate visa policies are established," he said.

More than 100,000 people are estimated to have been killed since the unrest began more than two years ago.

 

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