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UN launches 'largest humanitarian appeal in history' for Syria

The worsening Syrian crisis has prompted the United Nations to make its biggest ever appeal for money. Five billion dollars, says the UN, is the amount needed to help the 'staggering escalation of the refugee crisis'. More than one and a half million people have fled across Syria's borders. By the end of the year, that will more than double to three and a half million. With nearly 7 million Syrians becoming refugees in their own country.  ITV's John Ray reports.

Half the population of Syria is expected to be in need of aid by the end of the year as millions of people are forced to flee their homes due to the civil war, the United Nations said Friday as it launched its biggest ever humanitarian appeal.

In a statement, the UNHCR refugee agency said some $5 billion in aid would need to be spent during 2013 as the conflict is placing “an unbearable strain” on Syria’s population.

“Over 1.6 million Syrian refugees are now hosted across five countries. By the end of the year it is estimated that half of the population of Syria will be in need of aid. This includes an anticipated 3.45 million Syrian refugees and 6.8 million Syrians inside the country, many of whom will be displaced from their homes,” the statement said.

It said that so far it had received $1 billion and was seeking a further $4 billion in “the largest humanitarian appeal in history.”

 “Syria as a civilization is unraveling with as many as half of its citizens needing urgent help as a result of this savage conflict,” High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres was quoted as saying in the statement.

Hussein Malla / AP

A young Syrian refugee sits outside his tent, with his family nearby, at a camp in the eastern Lebanese town of Marj.

“The funds we are appealing for are a matter of survival for suffering Syrians," he said, adding that they were also essential for neighboring countries hosting refugees.

The appeal comes shortly after the forces of President Bashar Assad won a significant victory over the rebels and set their sights on two major opposition-held cities, Homs and Aleppo.

Rebels spoke of a “massacre” as Assad’s troops took the strategically important town of Qusair.

On Friday, a Syrian government official told The Associated Press that the army was carrying out “quick, successive attacks” to take areas near Homs and pro-regime media outlets said a move to take Aleppo would also be made.

The UNHCR's statement said that people fleeing the fighting were facing “huge issues of basic survival.”

“The majority of Syrian refugees have little or no private resources to draw on. They are increasingly vulnerable to exploitation, and the communities they are living with are also facing massive social issues in coping with this vulnerable and impoverished population,” it said.

Muhammad Hamed / Reuters

Syrian children crowd the Al Zaatri refugee camp in the Jordanian city of Mafraq, near the border.

“The vast majority of refugees are dependent on aid, arriving with little more than the clothes on their backs. Three quarters of refugees are not living in camps, but in villages, towns and cities. Financial assistance is vital for this invisible population,” it added.

The UNHCR said more than half the refugees fleeing Syria were children and noted a recent study that found 4 percent of Syrian refugees under the age of 5 in neighboring Jordan needed treatment for “moderate to acute” malnutrition.

It said in Jordan the flood of refugees was set to increase the country’s population by 25 percent by the end of the year if it continued at the current rate.

The European Union on Thursday announced it would contribute $530 million in humanitarian aid this year, the largest amount pledged by any government. 

The appeal, however, is aimed not only at governments, but also at businesses and individuals, the UNHCR said.

"It is clear that the aid budgets of donor governments will not be sufficient to cover the needs of millions of Syrian refugees," the statement said.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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