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Syria: Refugee Crisis Worsens and Money Dries Up

Children of Zaatari camp
Children of Za’atari camp

At its current pace, there will be 3.65 million Syrian refugees by the end of the year. That means an estimated 2 million people will flee from the violence in Syria to a neighboring country in the span of six months.

Another 4.25 million Syrians are displaced within the country and the UN estimates that 6.8 million Syrians need humanitarian assistance. That is more than one out of every four Syrians.

A request for $1.41 billion for the first half of the year received only 70% (corrected) of the funding. Despite the shortfall, 2.4 million people have been reached by feeding programs, one million children have been vaccinated against polio and measles and safe drinking water has been provided for 9 million people.

The continued fighting, increased displacements and worsening situation add up to a greater humanitarian need. An appeal for an additional $4.4 billion for the rest of the year reflects the challenges ahead.

“After more than two years of brutal conflict, almost a third of Syrians need urgent humanitarian help and protection, but the needs are growing more quickly than we can meet them,” said Emergency Relief Coordinator, Valerie Amos. “Today we launched the biggest humanitarian appeal ever and we are asking our donors to continue to give generously.”

However, the lack of funding for the original and much smaller appeal does not bode well for the new funding request, say UN officials.

“No, probably not,” says Edouard Rodier, who coordinates the regional response of the European Commission’s humanitarian aid arm, ECHO. “There will not be enough money.”

“The donors are simply not able to meet the needs,” says Dominique Hyde, head of the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in Jordan. “It’s not a criticism, it’s a reality.”

IRIN reports that aid agencies are thinking of the best way to direct limited resources. Donor fatigue is leading to less money available and causing relief agencies to look to non-traditional partners, like Coca Cola, for funding and support.

“Trying to select among these needs – that are all basic needs – which are the ones that will be left aside is immensely painful. It’s like doing triage. Its’ a horrible exercise,” said Rodier to IRIN.

Syria Figures

World leaders are seeking a peaceful resolution to the civil war, but remain divided over how to proceed. The United States and Russia will host a peace-building conference that hopes to bring together the rebels and Syrian government to stake out a middle ground. However, a lack of cohesion among rebel groups, differences between Russia and the US and the lack of date for the conference are cause for concern.

The United Nations’ and Arab League’s special Syria representative Lakhdar Brahimi said last week that that the two sides in Syria were not ready and expressed his doubt that the talks will begin soon.

“The only sticking point is … the Syrian component of the conference,” said Brahimi at a press conference. “The Syrian sides are not ready. Evidently, there is still a lot of work to do to bring a conference about.”

The number of refugees is placing pressure on Syria’s neighbors. Lebanon struggles under the number of refugees that enter on a daily basis. Syrian refugees account for roughly 20% of Lebanon’s population and the country is ill prepared to meet the infrastructure needs of the sudden population swell.

“Tension is rising every day because there’s not enough jobs, food and housing to go around for the locals and the refugees,” said Bryce Perry, director of the International Rescue Committee’s (IRC) aid programs in Lebanon. “Syrian refugees have fled atrocious conditions at home, only to find little hope or opportunity in Lebanon.”

IRC is calling on more support for the Lebanese government as it supports the refugees. The organization stressed the importance of donors meeting the UN appeal in order to ensure that the present situation does not deteriorate.

“A UN humanitarian appeal that’s partly funded and seriously behind the curve is simply not enough to get the job done. We understand that governments everywhere feel cash-strapped but without much more assistance, there’ll not only be more intense suffering but graver regional implications,” said Mike Young, the IRC’s Mideast regional director.


About Author

Tom Murphy

Tom Murphy is a New Hampshire-based reporter for Humanosphere. Before joining Humanosphere, Tom founded and edited the aid blog A View From the Cave. His work has appeared in Foreign Policy, the Huffington Post, the Guardian, GlobalPost and Christian Science Monitor. He tweets at @viewfromthecave. Contact him at tmurphy[at]