BERLIN — The United Nations launched its biggest humanitarian appeal ever today to help millions of Syrians suffering the effects of a conflict that has dragged on for more than two years with no end in sight.
U.N. aid agencies and independent relief organizations need $5.2 billion to fund their operations in Syria and neighboring countries until the end of the year, the global body said.
The figure presented at an international conference in Geneva represents a sharp increase from the $3 billion the global body had previously estimated it would need this year, of which only $1.4 billion has so far been pledged.
"The situation has deteriorated drastically," said Valerie Amos, the U.N.'s top humanitarian official, according to a draft copy of her speech to diplomats at the conference. "The crisis has intensified and spread into most parts of Syria."
Late last year the U.N. estimated that 4 million people needed aid inside Syria, a figure that has now grown to nearly 7 million. Meanwhile, the flood of refugees to Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq and Egypt has swelled to over 1.5 million. Syria's pre-war population was estimated at about 22 million.
"The human misery behind those figures is horrific and tragic," said Amos, citing the toll of more than 80,000 deaths since the uprising against Bashar Assad began in March 2011. "It's estimated that two years of conflict have set back Syria's development by two decades," she added.
The global body said $2.98 billion was needed to help people who have fled Syria, and $1.4 billion to pay for aid operations inside the country.
Food and medicine are particularly urgent. Many farmers in Syria are unable to tend their fields and the price of basic goods has risen steadily in recent months. The World Food Program said it plans to provide assistance to 4 million people inside Syria by September — in addition to more than 2 million refugees in neighboring countries — for which it needs $1 billion this year.
The World Health Organization warned recently that outbreaks of hepatitis, typhoid, cholera and dysentery are inevitable. A third of public hospitals in Syria aren't functioning and drinking water supplies have been seriously disrupted, said Amos.
Shelter for refugees is another urgent priority. Many of those who have fled Syria are living in crowded and sometimes squalid conditions, according to the aid group Doctors without Borders. Lebanon and Jordan, which each host about half a million Syrian refugees, asked donors for $450 million and $380 million respectively.
International efforts to bring the Syrian government and opposition groups to the negotiating table suffered a setback earlier this week, when the United States and Russia acknowledged that there was no chance of holding a peace conference this month as previously planned. But even if diplomacy were to prevail, Syria's needs wouldn't cease, said Amos.
"The levels of destruction mean that even if a political solution was reached tomorrow, Syria would still need humanitarian aid in 2014," she said.