Lara Sukhtian, AFP
Last updated: 11 October, 2012

UN warns Syria aid drying up

The UN’s chief humanitarian coordinators for Syria, on a Gulf tour to seek aid, have warned that already scarce resources for the growing number of displaced in the war-torn country are quickly drying up.

The UN’s regional refugee coordinator, Panos Mumtzis, told AFP in Dubai that the aid effort was hit by a “significant funding shortfall,” adding that financial support is needed for shelter, winter preparation, health and water.

The UN estimates some half a million Syrians have fled the country. About 335,000 of them are registered refugees who have escaped to neighbouring Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and Iraq.

By the end of the year, the UN expects the number to registered refugees to more than double to around 710,000 refugees.

Inside Syria, there are an estimated 1.2 million displaced Syrians living in ill-equipped public buildings.

“This is no longer business as usual. We have moved into an emergency situation. It is a crisis,” said Mumtzis of the 18-month uprising against President Bashar al-Assad’s regime that shows no signs of abating.

“When we get 2,000 to 3,000 refugees per day crossing the border continuously now for two months, this is really serious.”

The UN has requested $488 million for Syrian refugee assistance alone. So far $142 million, only 29 percent, has been provided.

The situation is just as grim for the UN’s humanitarian agencies assisting Syria’s internally displaced and other vulnerable populations within the country.

A UN call for $348 million for those still trapped within the country’s war-ravaged borders is only 38 percent funded.

The biggest reason for the funding shortage is that the Syrian crisis is unfolding “a lot faster than anyone had thought,” Mumtzis added.

The UN has been forced to revise its humanitarian appeals on three separate occasions in the past six months.

The “speed (of escalation) is reaching levels where we need to have an equally speedy funding mechanism,” said Mumtzis.

But time is one thing the aid agencies don’t have.

Winter is fast approaching, refugee numbers are rising everyday and funds are being depleted at an ever-faster rate.

Even more alarming is the fact that at least three quarters of the refugees are women and children, raising fears that a persistent shortage of funds could put the conflict’s most vulnerable populations at even greater risk.

The most urgent need right now is “to be ready for winter,” the UN’s regional humanitarian coordinator Radhoune Nouicer told AFP, adding that the aid community’s level of preparedness “will depend on funding.”

In total, more than 2.5 million Syrians are in need of humanitarian assistance. So far, more than 32,000 people have been killed in the revolt, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

“Today we are coping … from hand to mouth,” said Mumtzis, who warned the UN “absolutely (does) not” have enough for the increasing demands of the deadly conflict.

“The funds are going out very very quickly because more and more people keep on coming (for help),” said Mumtzis.

The largest donors through the UN system are the United States and the European Union. Arab countries have been primarily donating through local and regional charities, or bilaterally.

Few of the Arab donations, with the exception of a million-dollar pledge by Kuwait and a $7.5 million pledge by Saudi Arabia, have gone through UN agencies.

Saudi Arabia also held a five-day public fundraiser in July raising more than $72.33 million, $5.3 million of which was from King Abdullah himself, though most of it has yet to be allocated and it remains unclear how much of it will go through the UN.

The UN coordinators said they hoped their tour of the oil-rich Arab states of the Gulf which will include Qatar, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia will result in pledges of both aid and greater cooperation.