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‘No respite’ for civilians in Syria, UN officials urge international support

With the added impact of the coronavirus pandemic, “there is no respite for civilians in Syria”, UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), UN refugee agency (UNHCR) and UN Development Programme (UNDP) said in a joint news release on Monday. 

“It has been ten years of despair and disaster for Syrians. Now plummeting living conditions, economic decline and COVID-19 result in more hunger, malnutrition and disease”, Mark Lowcock, UN Emergency Relief Coordinator and head of OCHA said. 

Across Syria and in the region, 24 million people are in need of humanitarian or other forms of assistance – 4 million more than last year – and the highest since the conflict started. 

“More people need more help than at any point during the war, and children must return to learning. An investment in kindness and humanity is always good but sustaining the basic living standards for people in Syria is also an essential ingredient of sustainable peace. That is in everybody’s interest”, Mr. Lowcock added. 

24 million in need 

The appeal was made ahead of the fifth Brussels conference for Syria, which will be held on 29 and 30 March, to mobilise funds to support food, water and sanitation, health services, education, child vaccinations and shelter within Syria.

The funds will also support cash assistance programmes, job and training opportunities, and other services such as access to primary and secondary education, in conjunction with national systems in neighbouring countries, according to the UN agencies. 

In all, over $10 billion is needed to fully support Syrians and refugee-hosting communities in need, they added. The amount includes at least $4.2 billion for response inside Syria and $5.8 billion for refugees and host communities in the region. 

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Conference will take place in a virtual setting. 

Hard-earned gains ‘already at risk’ 

Filippo Grandi, UN High Commissioner for Refugees, warned that hard-earned gains the international community collectively achieved over years are already at risk. 

“The international community cannot turn their backs on the refugees or their hosts. Refugees and their hosts must get nothing less than our unfaltering commitment, solidarity and support. A failure to do so will be catastrophic for the people and the region”, he said. 

Achim Steiner, UNDP Administrator, went on to note that that impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, on top of 10 years of conflict is stretching Syrian refugees and host communities “to breaking point”. 

“Now, more than ever, the support of the international community is needed to meet life-saving humanitarian needs – and to tackle the acute development emergency that the region now faces”, Mr. Steiner added. 

At last year’s conference in Brussels, donors pledged $5.5 billion in funding to support humanitarian, resilience and development activities in 2020. 

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