UNITED NATIONS —
The United Nations warned Thursday that nearly five million Syrians are in need of humanitarian assistance due to the fighting gripping the country.
U.N. regional refugee coordinator Panos Moumtzis said four million Syrians are in urgent need of assistance, including two million who are displaced inside the country. By June, the U.N. forecasts regional refugee totals to exceed one million Syrians.
“This means that in between the inside plan to help four million people and the one million refugees, we are talking about 5.1 million Syrians included in this plan," he said. "That represents over five million people, that represents over a quarter of the population - one in four.”
In December, the United Nations appealed for $1.5 billion to fund humanitarian needs, one billion for the regional refugee crisis and the remaining half billion to help those inside Syria. That appeal is only five percent funded.
The money is needed to meet basic needs including food, water, medical care, shelter and blankets for tens of thousands of families displaced by fighting in Syria between the government and opposition forces.
There are more than 650,000 Syrian refugees registered in Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan, Iraq and Egypt. Half of them are children.
Syrian refugees wait to cross the Turkish border, January 13, 2013.
Moumtzis said the refugee numbers are growing by about 3,000 every day. He said many are crossing borders during the night with the aid of smugglers or the rebel Free Syrian Army, often arriving on foot in neighboring countries with only the clothes on their backs.
In some cases, he said, entire villages are leaving Syria.
The majority of refugees have been Sunni Muslims, but more recently, small numbers of some minority groups, including Christians and Alawites, are turning up in neighboring Lebanon.
While the U.N. appeal would assist more than one million refugees for the next six months, he said the United Nations is doing contingency planning for as many as 1.85 million refugees, should the situation continue to worsen.
Aid distribution has focused on refugee camps, but the United Nations says it is re-focusing on community outreach and looking to assist the majority of refugees who are staying with host families in neighboring countries.
On January 30, representatives of the international community will meet at a pledging conference in Kuwait. Without generous support, the U.N. says it will not be able to reach the poorest and most vulnerable families affected by Syria's crisis.