Last updated: 13 May, 2013

Red Cross seeks to more than double Syrian aid budget

Confronted with what it describes as a “major humanitarian catastrophe” in Syria, the Red Cross on Monday urged donors to more than double its budget this year to address the conflict in and around the war-torn country.

The International Committee of the Red Cross appealed to donors for an additional 62.3 million Swiss francs ($65.2 million, 50.5 million euros) to help it step up its response this year to the conflict inside Syria and in neighbouring countries.

The additional amount brings the organisation’s total budget for the area this year to 101.3 million Swiss francs, “making it the largest ICRC operation worldwide,” said Robert Mardini, who heads the ICRC’s Near and Middle East division.

“Our plan to step up our response is modest if we look at the needs, yet ambitious if we look at the reality we are facing on the ground,” he told reporters in Geneva.

Mardini added that the additional funds would be used to among other things help provide clean water to some 12.5 million people across Syria and boost its support for health infrastructure.

He meanwhile refused to join in global debate on whether chemical weapons have been used in the escalating conflict.

“We clearly were not confronted to any evidence” of chemical weapons use,” he told AFP, adding that “whatever we will be able to collect will be shared on a bilateral basis with the parties of the conflict. It won’t be shared publicly.”

He lamented that the issue seemed to be grabbing so much of the media spotlight, obscuring other serious humanitarian concerns.

“Millions are living in despair,” he said.

Marianne Gasser, who returned earlier this month from Syria, where she headed the International Committee of the Red Cross’s operations for three and a half years told reporters Monday that the needs in the country “are really growing by the day.”

“The human suffering is increasing. It’s really immense,” she said.

According to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, 82,257 people have been killed in the conflict.

What started out as a peaceful uprising against President Bashar al-Assad in March 2011, spiralled into a civil war after the army unleashed a brutal crackdown against dissent.

The United Nations has so far not revised its long-estimated death toll of 70,000, although it has repeatedly acknowledged that the number is a conservative estimate.