by Al Akhbar
The UN appealed on Thursday for $8.4 billion to provide emergency aid and longer-term help to nearly 18 million people in Syria and across the region hit by the drawn-out conflict.
Meanwhile, the United Nations children’s agency UNICEF appealed for $900 million to help children affected by the war in Syria.
For the first time, the United Nations’ appeal includes funding for life-saving food, shelter and other humanitarian aid, as well as development support, as the bloody war in Syria heads towards a fifth year.
UN agencies said at the appeal launch in Berlin that $2.9 billion (2.4 billion euros) were needed to help 12.2 million people inside Syria in 2015.
A further $5.5 billion is eyed for Syrians who have sought refuge in neighboring countries and for more than a million people in host communities, it said.
The Berlin appeal for Syria is slightly higher than an indicative amount announced in Geneva earlier this month, which did not include funding needs of neighboring countries.
The UN is planning for up to 4.3 million refugees in countries neighboring Syria by the end of 2015, it added.
“For those that think that this is a lot of money, I don’t remember any bailout of any medium-sized bank that has cost less than this,” UN High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres told reporters.
He warned that refugees and people displaced inside Syria had exhausted their savings and that host countries were at “breaking point.”
United Nations humanitarian chief Valerie Amos said Syria had slumped from a middle income country to struggling with widespread poverty.
“People affected by conflict need food, shelter, water, medicine and protection. But they also need support in rebuilding their livelihoods, maintaining education and health services and rebuilding fragmented communities,” Amos, UN under-secretary general for humanitarian affairs, said.
“The conflict in Syria is not only destroying people’s lives today but will continue to erode their capacity to cope far into the future if we don’t take a more holistic approach now,” she added.
Germany hosted an international conference on the Syrian refugee crisis in October which vowed to extend long-term financial aid to countries such as Lebanon and Jordan struggling under the influx of millions of Syrian refugees.
“The humanitarian crisis in Syria and the neighboring countries poses a threat to the stability of the whole region,” Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said Thursday.
“This is a call to the solidarity of all nations, and my country is willing to do its part,” he added.
UNICEF asks for $900 million for Syrian children
The appeal comes hours after the UNICEF said it needs more than $900 million to help children affected by the war in Syria next year, and appealed to donors for support.
“The Syria crisis represents the biggest threat to children of recent times,” UNICEF’s regional director for the Middle East and North Africa, Maria Calivis, said ahead of the major UN appeal for Syrian refugees. “By the end of 2015, the lives of over 8.6 million children across the region will have been torn apart by violence and forced displacement.”
Calivis said the agency’s plans for next year include doubling both the number of Syrian children with access to safe water and sanitation, and the number with access to education.
The agency will continue vaccination campaigns against polio, she said, and deliver care including cash grants and winter clothing to the families of some 850,000 children affected by the conflict.
“These commitments – costed at $903 million (732 million euros) – represent the bare minimum,” she said, calling on supporters “to help us make these commitments a reality.”
Earlier in December, UNICEF declared 2014 a devastating year for children with as many as 15 million caught in conflicts in Palestine, Syria, Iraq, South Sudan, Central African Republic, and Ukraine.
A UN panel investigating war crimes in Syria cited in a report in November cases of abductions, rape and other forms of sexual and physical violence against women and children, including the forced recruitment of minors by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
The UN report also said that the US-led airstrikes against ISIS in Syria and Iraq “have led to some civilian casualties,” including scores of children.
Syria’s conflict, which evolved from mass demonstrations against President Bashar al-Assad’s regime to a war that has left more than 200,000 dead, has forced more than half of the country’s population to flee their homes.
A UN refugee agency (UNHCR) report published mid November shows that about 13.6 million people have been displaced by conflict in Syria and Iraq, many without food or shelter as winter starts. The 13.6 include 7.2 million displaced within Syria, in addition to the estimated 3.3 million Syrian refugees abroad.
On December 9, the World Food Program (WFP) announced that the UN will resume food aid to Syrian refugees in neighboring countries, following a campaign to raise funds for a halted program offering food vouchers.
The announcement came after a campaign by the WFP seeking funds to cover a $64 million shortfall which had forced the agency to suspend the program at the beginning of December.
Amnesty International announced this month that wealthy nations have only taken in a “pitiful” number of the millions of refugees uprooted by Syria’s conflict, placing the burden on the country’s ill-equipped neighbors.
“Around 3.8 million refugees from Syria are being hosted in five main countries within the region: Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Egypt,” said Amnesty.
“Only 1.7 percent of this number have been offered sanctuary by the rest of the world,” the rights group added.
It is worth noting that the US House of Representatives adopted a $584.2 billion annual defense spending bill on December, which includes emergency funding for military operations against ISIS and training and equipping the so-called “moderate” Syrian rebels. However, it doesn’t include providing any humanitarian assistance to Syrian refugees.
The US annual defense bill could secure WFP’s humanitarian aid for Syrian refugees for roughly 700 years.