As the Astana talks between Syrian factions and the government concluded, the United Nations said on Tuesday it will need more than $8 billion in funding this year to provide life-saving assistance to millions of Syrians inside their shattered homeland and to refugees and their host communities in neighboring countries.
The U.N. refugee agency is seeking $4.63 billion in new funding to help at least 4.8 million people- 70 percent of whom are women and children – who have fled the war by going abroad, mainly to Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Turkey, and an estimated $3.4 billion to help an estimated 13.5 million internally displaced people.
The first part was launched at a Helsinki conference. Funds will be used to provide food, rent, education and health care.
Opening the aid conference in Finland, Finnish Prime Minister Juha Sipila made a strong global appeal for more global help to those affected by the “devastating” war, warning that it has caused “population movements of great magnitude not seen since” World War II.
“Women have been subject to sexual and gender-based violence and young girls have been forced into child marriage,” Sipila said. “More than half of the Syrian children are out of school across the region. Hospitals and schools have been destroyed and crucial public services have broken down.”
Speaking to reporters, Stephen O’Brien, the head of the Office for the Coordination for Humanitarian Affairs, said: “We are at the critical juncture. We cannot let an erroneous perception that the crisis in Syria is somehow over.”
“Even if the lasting peace is to break out today, this is the crisis that continues to test out shared humanity,” he added.
The one-day meetings and panel discussions in the Finnish capital are aimed at charting humanitarian priorities for Syria in 2017 and to launch a regional refugee plan. They coincide with peace talks in the Kazakh capital, Astana, where the host country announced that Russia, Turkey and Iran had struck a deal on a mechanism to consolidate the country’s nearly month-old cease-fire.
“Of course we fear that it will get worse,” O’Brien said. “And even if peace was to take place from tonight, the humanitarian needs within Syria would continue for a good time to come.”
Five countries – Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq, Jordan and Egypt – host nearly 5 million Syrian refugees, a “staggering number”, with few in camps, U.N. refugee chief Filippo Grandi said.
“Even if Syrians have stopped arriving in Europe in any significant numbers, I hope that everybody realizes that the Syria refugee crisis has not gone away and continues to affect millions in host communities and continues to be a tragic situation,” he said.
It was too early to say whether any solution would lead to further displacement or people returning to their homes.
“There is uncertainty surrounding the political process, we all hope that it will move in the right direction, but we can’t tell. We’ve had disappointments in the past,” Grandi said.
Providing livelihoods and restoring basic utilities are a priority in Syria, said Helen Clark, administrator of the U.N. Development Program (UNDP).
“Even were there to be a political settlement tomorrow, we would still be here seeking support for humanitarian relief for a country that has been brought to its knees, with 85 percent living in poverty, 50 percent in unemployment and with the severe economic and social impacts on the neighborhood.”
During the Helsinki conference, donors from civil society and the private sector also discussed new assistance in the wake of last year’s pledge of $12 billion made at a Syria aid conference in London. A follow-up to the Feb. 2016 London meeting is scheduled to be held in Brussels in April.