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Overtaken by Need: Syria's escalating humanitarian crisis

Overtaken by Need: Syria's escalating humanitarian crisis

Refugee numbers in neighbouring countries steadily climb

The world risks failing the people of Syria as the scale of suffering increases and the humanitarian fall-out from the crisis worsens by the day, warned aid agency Oxfam today.

With nearly seven million people in need of humanitarian help inside Syria, the organisation is calling on the UN Security Council to help improve humanitarian access by using its influence to urge the Syrian Government and opposition groups to help ensure aid reaches those most in need. This could mean allowing aid to cross lines of control and cross-border from neighbouring countries, such as Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey.

Syrian refugees now make up more than 10 per cent of Lebanon’s population. That is the equivalent of 440,000 Syrians arriving in New Zealand – often with little more than the clothes on their backs.

Executive Director of Oxfam New Zealand, Barry Coates, said, “The world risks failing the people of Syria at a time when they most need our help. Responding to this crisis is now our number one priority.

“We hear each day that the situation in Syria is desperate for so many but providing an appropriate humanitarian response is extremely difficult – and deeply frustrating. Restrictions on access mean far too many vulnerable people are not getting the help they have a right to.”

The organisation is using its decades of humanitarian experience in some of the most difficult environments in the world to develop its emergency response to the crisis unfolding in Syria. Concern is growing about the impact of the two-year conflict on water and sanitation facilities, in particular, because of the knock-on effect on people’s health and risk of disease.

In addition, the aid agency is calling for the needs of the 1.3 million Syrian refugees now living in neighbouring countries to be fully met.

In a new briefing paper released today, called “Overtaken By Need”, Oxfam says that three months after US$1.5 billion was pledged for the UN’s six-month appeal, just over half of the money has been received, much of it from Gulf countries. Refugee numbers have doubled in the first three months of the year and Oxfam warns that similar or even higher levels of funding will be required for the response in the future as the humanitarian catastrophe worsens.

Funds are particularly short for some organisations – including Oxfam – working with Syrian refugees in neighbouring countries.

“The aid effort on the borders has been slow to get off the ground and now needs to be scaled up significantly. A massive increase in humanitarian assistance is required but we fear that instead of being stepped up, the reverse is more likely to happen and aid levels could soon decline,” added Coates.

In Jordan’s Za’atari refugee camp increased numbers of arrivals mean facilities are stretched to the limit. Oxfam has installed toilets, showers and laundry areas to help 20,610 people in part of the camp but the organisation hopes to do more.

There are concerns that failure to respond fully to the humanitarian emergency could have serious consequences on stability across the wider region. Countries that have generously provided help for Syrian refugees, such as Jordan and Lebanon, are already feeling the economic and social strains of hosting such large numbers and need much greater international assistance, the aid agency said.

There have already been riots over poor living conditions and shortages of aid given in refugee camps in Jordan and Turkey. In Jordan, Oxfam is looking at how best to help the vulnerable refugees living outside the camp and in host communities over the next few months.

“When refugees arrive in Jordan and Lebanon they are traumatised and fearful for the future. As the needs of Syrians and refugees increase, so must the response,” said Coates.

“The future will be very bleak for people affected by this crisis unless they get more support.”

The briefing paper, Overtaken by Need, is available on the Oxfam website:


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