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article imageSyrian conflict: 38% of Syrians needing humanitarian aid

By Robert Myles     May 22, 2013 in World
That’s according to a new report from the United Nations’ Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) which has called the situation in Syria a “humanitarian catastrophe”.
As the civil war in Syria shows no sign of abating, the same office warned that funding to respond to the worsening situation has not kept pace with the needs of an ever-growing proportion of the Syrian population now desperately in need of help says the OCHA.
The report puts the numbers of Syrians in need of assistance at 8.3 million. Put another way, 38 per cent of the country’s population are now in need of aid. The figures break down as 6.8 million in need of help within Syria and 1.5 million people displaced who’ve sought refuge in countries neighbouring Syria. Speaking at a news conference in Geneva, Panos Moumtzis, Regional Coordinator for Syrian Refugees for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), said, “The situation in the neighbouring countries and movement of refugees across the border is obviously a direct consequence of the increased level of insecurity inside Syria, and in particular in areas of conflict.”
Mr. Moumtzis continued that the humanitarian situation in Syria had been “rapidly spiralling downwards” since the turn of the year. Now, with the approach of warmer weather in the region, there are further concerns on the risk of diseases running rife amongst the Syrian refugee population. Mr. Moumtzis added, “UNHCR is now very much worried about the coming summer months and in particular the increase in temperatures and the associated health problems linked to water and sanitation.”
Quite apart from potential health problems in the large refugee population within Syria’s borders, there are also worries about the pressures being put on adjoining countries, ill-prepared to cope with such a large influx of refugees. Mr. Moumtzis reported there are now 500,000 Syrian refugees in Lebanon and around the same number in Jordan. He commented, “Such a significant number of refugees in a tiny country like Lebanon – with growing unemployment and insecurity, tremendous political pressure inside the country and the complexity of regional politics – made the Lebanese situation extremely dangerous.”
Meanwhile, as headline reports over the past few weeks have comprised claim and counter-claim as to which side in the Syrian conflict may have used chemical weapons, another UN agency, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has highlighted the tragic situation unfolding in the Syrian city of Qusayr. There, heavy fighting has taken place and thousands of women and children are believed to be caught up in the conflict, unable to find refuge.
At Qusayr, a town with a population of around 30,000, UNICEF says it believes between 12,000 and 20,000 people, many children, are stuck inside the city. Already UNICEF is on the ground in the area with the agency and its partners, working at Hasiaa, close to Homs, reported to be helping around 500 families made up of women, children and elderly who have recently managed to flee Qusayr and nearby villages. Those refugees have joined over 1,100 families who had already escaped fighting in Qusayr as it flared over the past month. UNICEF reports many of those who fled Qusayr left at night-time with little more than the clothes they were wearing. Apart from providing clothing and hygiene kits, UNICEF and other agencies hope to start trucking in water and taking steps to improve sanitation over the coming days.
The numbers of refugees estimated to have fled Qusayr are of course just a small part of the critical refugee situation now emerging in Syria and bordering countries. According to OCHA, whilst in January more than $1.5 billion was pledged by donors for the humanitarian response to the Syrian crisis, continuing assistance is now needed as a matter of urgency. Early next month, the UN and its associated organisations will be announcing a revised funding appeal given the ever more pressing needs of the Syrian refugees.
As the Syrian refugee crisis grows to alarming proportions, in a war which has already claimed an estimated 70,000 civilian lives, the time for debate among those nations cheering from the sidelines as to what, truly, is in the best interests of the Syrian population has long since passed. Is it giving materiel assistance to the Syrian rebels or beefing up Assad’s military? Or, is it time to wield the big stick and get both sides in the Syrian conflict to the negotiating table to end this Syrian tragedy in the interests of all Syrians?
For Europe, as the featured video illustrates, taking steps to end the Syrian conflict is not just an altruistic ideal. Already many Syrian refugees have ended up in Greece, whose precarious economic situation leaves it poorly placed to cope with any large influx of new arrivals. As more and more Syrians are displaced from their homes, there are sound reasons for European nations, if only in their own self interest, to take the lead in pressing for Syrian peace negotiations now.
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