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U.S. Aid for Syria's Displaced Approaches $200 Million

By Charlene Porter | Staff Writer | 14 November 2012
Boy standing before a tent, with other tents on hillside behind (AP Images)

A sea of white tents stretches to the horizon in this displaced persons camp inside Syria.

Washington — The United States is providing almost $200 million in emergency aid to address the humanitarian crisis stemming from the ongoing conflict in Syria.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton announced a $30 million boost in assistance November 14, only days after a November 9 U.S. commitment for additional aid made during the Syrian Humanitarian Forum held in Geneva the week of November 4.

Flowing through the World Food Programme (WFP), U.S. funds are helping to provide food aid to 1.5 million people in Syria and refugees who have fled to neighboring countries to escape the violence that began in March 2011.

State Department documents indicate that the United States is the largest donor of food aid through WFP, but other governments and humanitarian organizations have also mobilized considerable resources to help displaced Syrians and Syrians who remain in the country, despite air attacks, shelling and street battles.

The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) now estimates that a total of 2.5 million Syrians need assistance, including those who have fled their homeland and those who remain.

In Turkey, 14 refugee camps now shelter more than 120,000 Syrians who have crossed the border to escape violence. The Turkish government set up the camps over a matter of weeks, and they were filled in days. Still more camps are needed, according to UNHCR, which provided tents and camp infrastructure.

Other nations sharing borders with Syria are also providing shelter to refugees. Jordan received more than 4,000 new arrivals the week of November 4, pushing the total there to some 116,000, UNHCR says. More than 70 percent of those are outside camps.

The number of Syrian refugees in Iraq is now more than 50,000, including more than 42,000 in the Kurdistan region and thousands more in other governorates to the south.

U.N. Humanitarian Coordinator for Syria Radhouane Nouicer described the desperate plight of people who remain in the country. “Ordinary people are under siege, trapped, and aid agencies are often unable to reach them," he told donors, noting that "the Syrian people are probably the most effective aid organization, opening their homes to the displaced."

UNHCR has been able to get shipments of family aid packages distributed to some 295,000 people inside Syria, spokeswoman Melissa Fleming said at a Geneva briefing November 13. The emergency packages contain nonfood supplies such as blankets, clothing, cooking kits and jerry cans. These are supplies that will help meet basic needs during the coming winter.

"Unfortunately, recent deliveries have been very difficult,” Fleming continued. “Last week, humanitarian operations were disrupted on at least two days in Damascus because of insecurity. Similar difficulties were experienced by staff working in Aleppo, and we are temporarily withdrawing staff from northeastern Hassakeh governorate," Fleming told journalists.

Insecurity over the past few weeks has also resulted in loss of aid supplies, including some 13,000 blankets destroyed in a Syrian Arab Red Crescent warehouse in Aleppo that was apparently hit by a shell. In addition, a truck carrying 600 blankets was hijacked on its way to Adra, outside Damascus.

Nevertheless, progress has been made, Fleming said, with mattresses, hygiene kits, education materials and cash assistance successfully delivered early in the week of November 11.

Humanitarian agencies estimate that 4 million people could need humanitarian assistance as a result of Syria’s violence by early 2013.

The CIA World Factbook reports that the ongoing conflict has left a combined death toll of 30,000 through October, including Syrian government forces, opposition forces and civilians.