As Syria’s civil war grinds on with little prospect for reprieve, one issue that is getting lost is the sheer scale of human suffering caused by this conflict. Syria is already the worst humanitarian crisis in the world–and it is only getting worse.
The top UN humanitarian official Valerie Amos issued a grim statement yesterday summarizing the sorry plight of 4 million people caught in conflict.
The humanitarian situation in Syria is already catastrophic and is clearly getting worse. Four million people face unrelenting violence and violations of their human rights, and we continue to see the terrible damage being caused by heavy weapons used in urban centres. People are living in constant fear of bombing or sexual violence and there is lack of food, shelter and urgent medical attention.
The harsh winter is exacerbating the already appalling conditions. More than 650,000 people have left the country, and I would like to thank neighbouring countries, and particularly Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan, in that respect. But we have also seen people flee to North Africa and to Europe. Domestically, this is having an impact in countries like Jordan, Lebanon and, of course, Turkey, because people of those countries are asking tough questions of their Governments about the number of people that will be allowed to come in. We have, therefore, been very grateful to those countries for keeping their borders open, but there is a regional impact which we are very conscious of.
Our colleagues from the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights tell us that 60,000 people have lost their lives. Ordinary people are paying a terrible price for the failure of the international community to agree steps to resolve this political crisis. Day after day we are all seeing and hearing appalling reports on our television screens, on the internet and in the newspapers of more violence and hardship, thanks to those in the media who continue to cover this crisis.
The emergency and operations directors from eight UN agencies were in Syria and Lebanon this week. They expressed shock at what they saw, they were very clear that the effect of nearly two years of conflict has had a terrible impact on people, especially on children. I repeat: four million people need help, two million are internally displaced, and 400,000 out of 500,000 Palestinians refugees have been affected.
At a panel on Capitol Hill last week organized by the Better World Campaign a number of representatives from organizations providing relief on-the-ground painted stark picture of the humanitarian challenges. “This is primarily a children’s crisis,” said Panos Moumtzis, the UN Refugee Agency’s regional coordinator for the Syria crisis. “It is overwhelmingly children and families that are fleeing.” Panos says UNHCR is receiving nearly 3,000 refugees a day. “It’s like we are building a new town every week.”
Late last month, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs issued a $1.4 billion appeal to cover the basic needs of people affected by conflict inside Syria and Syrian refugees. There will be a pledging conference in Kuwait next Wednesday to spur donations to the cause.
With the international community paralyzed politically in its attempts to resolve the conflict through diplomacy, the least countries can do is step up and provide for the basic needs of the 4 million people caught in conflict.