With no end in sight for the conflict in Syria, United Nations officials today warned that over four million people may be in need of humanitarian relief by the start of next year and appealed for urgent funds for aid operations, particularly as temperatures begin to drop in the region.
“It is predictable and it is inevitable that more and more people will be killed, injured and displaced the longer this conflict goes on,” the Director of Operations of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), John Ging, told reporters in Geneva following the conclusion of the Syria Humanitarian Forum.
“Every day more and more people are killed, more and more people are injured, more and more people are internally displaced, more and more people have their lives and their livelihoods destroyed,” Mr. Ging added.
Some 400 participants from UN Member States, regional organizations, international non-governmental organizations and the world body’s humanitarian agencies took part in today’s Forum, the sixth such meeting since the start of the crisis in Syria.
The conflict in the Middle Eastern country, which began 20 months ago as an uprising against President Bashar al-Assad, has led to the deaths of at least 20,000 people, mostly civilians, forced over 400,000 people to neighbouring countries, and left more than 2.5 million people in need of humanitarian assistance, according to UN estimates.
“We’re projecting that the numbers of refugees will rise by the early New Year to over 700,000, on the current trends,” he added. “We are predicting that the numbers in need will exceed four million, up from 2.5 million.”
To address these needs, Mr. Ging stressed the need for greater resources for humanitarian operations, noting that current funding levels are “falling way short.” The $358 million appeal for humanitarian operations inside Syria is only 45 per cent funded, while the $485 million appeal for the refugee response is only at 35 per cent.
“The message out of the forum is the political commitment to help the people of Syria through this crisis at the humanitarian level really needs to translate into more funding support for the humanitarian operations that are being conducted for those that are in need,” said Mr. Ging. “That translates into broadening the base of donors.”
At the Forum, the United States announced $32 million in additional funding, while the United Kingdom announced an additional £6 million [around $9.5 million]. Other donors pledged to respond to the underfunding challenge without providing specifics today.
“What we look forward to in the coming weeks is that new donors, particularly from the Gulf countries, will come forward and support the appeal as they have been indicating that they will do. We need their funding support,” Mr. Ging stated.
At the news briefing, UN officials also highlighted the need to expedite the delivery of winter packages, which include blankets, kerosene, stoves, winter clothes and materials to winterize tents – given the onset of colder weather in the region.
“I’m afraid winter is not going to wait for us. Winter is not going to wait for the funds to be raised,” said the Regional Refugee Coordinator from the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Panos Moumtzis.
“We’re very concerned for the lack of funding and while we see a significant international interest on the Syria situation, we want to make sure that the financial support that is provided also matches the needs as they evolve fairly quickly on the ground,” he stated.
Mr. Moumtzis reported that the humanitarian situation is deteriorating, both inside Syria and on the refugee front. In the last 24 hours alone, over 11,000 Syrian refugees fled to neighbouring countries – 9,000 to Turkey, 1,000 to Jordan and 1,000 to Lebanon. This brings the total number of registered or assisted Syrian refugees in the region to over 408,000.
In addition to the shortage of funds, another main challenge faced by humanitarian actors is access, according to the UN Regional Humanitarian Coordinator for Syria, Radhouane Nouicer.
“As long as the parties involved in this conflict do not respect the neutrality and the impartiality of humanitarian actors, access will continue to be difficult,” he told the news conference.
Another challenge, Mr. Nouicer noted, is the need for more humanitarian partners inside Syria. “The existing partnerships are effective but they’re not enough to cover the huge and diversified needs of the civilian population,” he added.