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UN launches ‘biggest appeal ever’ for Syrians

December 18, 2013 By Elizabeth Parker-Magyar and Abdulrahman al-Masri AMMAN: […]

18 December 2013

December 18, 2013

By Elizabeth Parker-Magyar and Abdulrahman al-Masri

AMMAN: The United Nations has launched its largest humanitarian appeal for a single population in its history Monday, asking for $6.5 billion to support roughly three out of four Syrians with some level of food, water, housing, basic medical supplies and polio vaccinations over the next year. 

In a show of support, 36 international aid agencies, including the International Rescue Committee, Save the Children, Doctors without Borders and OXFAM issued a statement of support on Monday calling on the international community “to dig deep and be generous.”

As the humanitarian crisis in Syria spirals downward after 33 months of conflict, the UN says that if its funding request is fully met, it will seek to reach 9.3 million Syrians inside the country – including 2.5 million in what it designates as “hard-to-reach areas” – and at least 2.3 million who have fled Syria to neighboring countries.

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A Syrian boy carts a gas canister in northern Jordan’s Zaatari camp. Photo courtesy of Twitter user @TamerYazar.

On Monday, the International Rescue Committee released a statement detailing the humanitarian challenge inside Syria: the cost of bread has risen 500 percent, nearly four in five communities are struggling to access food, one in two communities is concerned about clean water, and a shortage of medical supplies is pervasive.

The humanitarian appeal, which coincides with one of the largest snowstorms to hit Syria in recent history, comes after 62 percent of the UN’s June demand for $4.3 billion was fulfilled.

“Starvation is now threatening large parts of the Syrian population,” said IRC president David Milliband. “With polio on the loose, and a sub-zero winter already here, the people of Syria now face months of more death and despair.”

The humanitarian catastrophe in and around Syria “is receiving far too little attention and funding around the world,” Milliband said.

In October, the World Health Organization documented 15 cases of polio in children under two in the rebel-controlled eastern province of Deir e-Zor. Since then, the outbreak, the first in Syria since 1999, has spread to rebel-controlled Aleppo and the Damascus suburbs.

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A Syrian child receives a polio vaccine.

For the UN and its partners, humanitarian efforts are heavily dependent on coordination with the Syrian government, which has blockaded some rebel towns for more than a year.

Legally obligated to coordinate with the Syrian government, the UN has been unable to convince President Bashar al-Assad’s regime to temporarily lift those blockades to allow the entry of medicine, food, clean water or material supplies to the 250,000 Syrians it estimates are living behind them.

“The Syria humanitarian plan itself is definitely run by the government,” Dina Morad, a policy advisor for Mercy Corps and board member of SIRF, a coalition of 36 humanitarian agencies assisting Syrians inside and outside the country, told Syria Direct.

On December 2, the United Nations was permitted to coordinate with the Syrian government to airlift 538,000 polio vaccinations, as well as food and medical equipment, from its headquarters in Damascus to the northeastern province of al-Hasakah.

But that airlift bypassed rebel-held towns in East Ghouta, a short drive away from UN headquarters in Damascus, as well as the entire province of Deir e-Zor.

“We in East Ghouta are not included in vaccination campaigns,” said Majed Abu Ali, who works at the United Medical Office in the East Ghouta suburbs of Damascus.

Reuters reported Tuesday that Deir e-Zor, where polio was first detected, had been purposefully excluded from the campaign per Syrian government requests.

“The initial appeal has been run by the government, they have played a part in what the priorities are and what the needs are for their own people,” Morad told Syria Direct. “We are trying to cooperate with the government to be able to access the areas that we are not able to access right now.”

Refugee response

The UN’s record-breaking appeal responds to two separate crises: it asks for $2.3 billion for work inside Syria and $4.3 billion to respond to the refugee crisis in five neighboring countries.

Today, the 2.3 million Syrians who have fled Syria for Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Iraq and Egypt comprise the second-largest refugee community in the world. 

 Seeking to lessen the strain on host communities, the UN said in its statement it would shift more resources to the 80 percent of refugees living outside camps. 

“The Syria crisis is having a dramatic impact on their economies, societies and even on their security,” said United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres in the UN statement, referencing tensions between Syrian refugees and host communities.

“This goes beyond anything we have seen in many, many years.”

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