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U.N. Warns Of Growing Syrian Humanitarian Crisis

U.S. Raises Its Relief Commitment

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Updated November 12, 2012

The humanitarian crisis resulting from the 19-month-old Syrian civil war worsened in the second week of November 2012, prompting the United Nations to issue relief warnings and the United States State Department to increase its allocations of humanitarian aid.

Meanwhile, an estimated 11,000 refugees fled Syria on November 9, bound for either Turkey, Lebanon, or Jordan. That is the largest single day's refugee movement of the war. The U.N. estimates that some 400,000 people have fled Syria since the war began.

Syrian violence erupted in spring 2011 when opponents of Syrian president Bashar Al-Assad began agitating for his ouster. Assad has repeatedly unleashed his troops on opposition forces. Estimates of civilian dead in the conflict range up to 30,000.

Dire U.N. Predictions

John Ging, director of operations for the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), told a Geneva, Switzerland, press conference on November 9 that up to four million people may need humanitarian aid by the start of 2013.

"We're projecting that the numbers of refugees will rise by the early New Year to over 700,000, on the current trends," Ging said. He noted that the numbers of people in need should climb from 2.5 million to four million.

Ging noted that a $358 million U.N. appeal for aid within Syria is only about 45% funded. An appeal for $485 million for refugee help has reached only 35% of its goals.

U.N. officials fear the onset of winter before help can supply refugees with shelter, stoves, fuel, and winter clothes.

U.S. Response

The United States Department of State on November 9 announced that it was providing an additional $34 million in humanitarian assistance to civilians both inside and outside of Syria. That raises the total American relief commitment for the crisis to $165 million.

Deputy Assistant Secretary Kelly T. Clements said that American aid will be directed at four areas:

  • Winterization: Money will provide blankets, stoves, plastic window insulation, and other winter supplies to displaced people.
  • Child Protection and Gender-based Violence Prevention: Money will support "child protection issues, psychosocial support, and educations, as well as measures to prevent gender-based violence."
  • Health: Money will help provide immunizations to children and life-saving aid to others.
  • Medical Transport: Money will be used to transport wounded Syrians from the Lebanon-Syria border to receive medical attention elsewhere.

Clements said that U.S. medical aid has reached some 290,000 in the conflict area. U.S. supported field hospitals have performed 11,350 surgeries. "We have provided medicines, medical supplies, and medical equipment sufficient to assist over 77,000 people inside Syria, and we are providing a wide range of supplies from simple gauze and bandages to treat wounds to advanced equipment like x-ray machines, defibrillators, and surgical tables to help address more complex injuries," he said.

Other American Responses

Many of the refugees fleeing Syria are running from Assad's loyalist air force. While the United States and its NATO allies seem unprepared to enforce a "no-fly" zone over Syria like they did over Libya nearly two years ago, they are working in some other ways.

Well known are the sanctions that a coalition of western nations has in place to prevent Syria from using oil resources to fund the military crackdown.

As well, the U.S. is working with opposition members both inside and outside of Syria to coordinate governmental responses should Assad fall. That is similar to American work with the Transitional National Council in Libya prior to the fall of Muammar Qaddafi.

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