As the crisis in Syria enters its third year, United Nations officials today warned that civilian suffering is escalating and humanitarian needs mounting, while funds are rapidly running out.
"Shelter, water, food, basic supplies, health care - all are precarious,"Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â? said the Regional Humanitarian Coordinator for Syria, Radhouane Nouicer. "The civilian space is eroding as there is almost no place deemed to be safe. Syrians have no idea when, or if, they will have a normal life again."
Syria has been wracked by violence since the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad began in March 2011. Up to 70,000 people have died, more than 1.1 million have fled to neighbouring countries, 2 million have been internally displaced and up to 4 million are in need of humanitarian assistance.
At an aid conference in January, the international community pledged $1.5 billion to respond to the humanitarian crisis resulting from the Syria conflict for the first six months of this year.
Mr. Nouicer warned that the population's needs are outpacing the speed at which humanitarian aid is reaching them, and stressed that obtaining access to the population is increasingly difficult due to the lack of funds. Many of the ongoing emergency operations are in jeopardy unless more funding arrives.
"Despite all that we have accomplished, we are not managing to reach all people in need now, and the numbers grow by the hour. The chaotic situation does not allow for the collection of accurate data about people in need across the country, and in any case, it is not possible to meet 100 per cent of the needs with only 21 per cent of the funding required for the first half of 2013," Mr. Nouicer added.
Speaking at a press conference in Beirut, UN High Commissioner for Refugees AntÃƒÆ'Ã¯Â¿Â½'Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â³nio Guterres warned that if the war does not end, "there will be an explosion in the Middle East,"Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â? and called on governments to create special funds to support Syrian refugees and the countries that are hosting them, including Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey.
So far, UNHCR has only received 30 per cent of funds required to cover the basic needs of all refugees. "There is a gap of $700 million," Mr. Guterres said. "There is no way a gap of this magnitude can be filled with current humanitarian budgets."
He also highlighted the enormous strain that host governments are going through. In Lebanon, for example, the population has increased by 10 per cent in just one year, and as numbers continue to grow so does the risk of instability in the region.
UNHCR and its partners are currently covering 85 per cent of health care costs of refugees attending health clinics in Lebanon, while the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) has set up remedial classes in some parts of the country, as many children has been out of school for up to two years.
Meanwhile, other UN agencies continue to work inside and outside of Syria, providing basic services such as food, blankets, and access to water and sanitation.
In Iraq, the World Food Programme (WFP) has started a monthly food voucher programme for people living in the Domiz camp in the north of the country. The agency hopes to expand this programme to reach 95,000 people every month. In addition, it is also distributing food, including rice, lentils, oil and sugar.
During a press briefing in Geneva, WFP spokesperson Elisabeth Byrs warned that camps are becoming overcrowded and the Government is exploring locations to open new ones and has requested WFP to assist with food distribution.
She said WFP is ready to assist Syrians once these camps are established but warned that the agency is also facing a severe funding shortage. "WFP needs an urgent $156 million to continue its life support line to feed Syrians from now until June,"Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â? Ms. Byrs said, adding that these funds would help the agency reach 2.5 million people inside Syria and over one million refugees in neighbouring countries.
At the same briefing, the spokesperson for the World Health Organization (WHO), Tarik Jasarevic, stressed that the health infrastructure in Syria has been severely disrupted, as well as its health care workforce and availability of medicine and supplies.
The situation is critical, as more than one-third of public hospitals are out of services at a time when there are many injured who need assistance.
"Hospitals and health centres that are operating are overburdened with patients. For example, the main referral hospital in Lattakia receives a new emergency patient every 32 seconds," said Mr. Jasarevic. "Similarly, Al Berony referral hospital in Damascus is receiving 20 times more emergency patients now than before the conflict began."
Due to the lack of sanitation and hygiene, there are frequent reports of diarrhoea, typhoid and hepatitis cases, and the situation is expected to deteriorate even further if there is an outbreak of a water-borne disease.
Last year, WHO managed to reach more than 2 million people in Syria with health care support. It has distributed medical products to both Government and opposition-controlled areas, and has carried out polio and measles vaccinations campaigns, reaching 1.5 million children. In addition, it has established six mobile clinics in highly affected areas in Rural Damascus, Aleppo and Homs.
For this year, Mr. Jasarevic said WHO has only received 12 per cent of the required $48.5 million in funds to cover the first six months.