— Estimating that 6.8 million Syrians are in need of urgent help, the United Nations on Friday launched a record $4.4 billion international aid appeal for operations in Syria and neighboring countries.
The U.N. reports its combined appeal tops the $5 billion mark when appeals by Jordan and Lebanon for $830 million are factored in. It said it already has pledges of about $1.4 billion.
The funds would help care for those displaced inside Syria by the ongoing civil war, as well as Syrian refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and Iraq.
The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, Antonio Guterres, called for an urgent international response.
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“There is already evidence of spillover of the conflict in Lebanon and in Iraq," he said. "Jordan is in a very fragile economic situation, and if the fighting does not stop we risk to have an explosion in the Middle East for which the international community is simply not prepared. In this context, we are seeing a staggering escalation of the refugee crisis.”
Refugee numbers rising
Guterres said there are 1.6 million Syrian refugees in neighboring countries and that figure might climb to 3.5 million by the end of the year. The U.N. estimates that the 6.8 million people living inside Syria, many of them displaced, also will need aid.
While noting that the combined $5.2 billion appeal is staggering, Guterres compared it to less charitable spending.
“It represents what the Americans spend on ice cream in 32 days," he said. "It represents what the Australians spend in their overseas travel in 10 weeks. It represents what German drivers spend in petrol in six weeks.”
U.N. Under Secretary-General and Emergency Relief Coordinator, Valerie Amos, said the death toll in the Syrian war now exceeds 80,000. She is calling for more international help for survivors.
“The Syrian people that we have spoken to in Syria, in Lebanon, in Jordan, in Turkey through all our visits have asked us time and time again why has the international community abandoned us,” she said.
The U.N. said its appeal is aimed not only at governments, but also at businesses and individuals. The European Union on Thursday announced it would contribute $530 million in humanitarian aid this year, the largest amount pledged by any governing authority.
Meanwhile, the Lebanese army warned residents on Friday about getting embroiled in spillover fighting from Syria's civil war.
The warning came as fierce clashes in the northern city of Tripoli between supporters and opponents of President Bashar Assad eased on Friday. Deadly clashes between Damascus supporters and opponents inside Lebanon have been on the rise recently.
A military statement said the Lebanese Army urges citizens to be wary of "plots" aimed at taking Lebanon backwards and "dragging it into a futile war."