For weeks now, the world has been watching the fight for Kobani, on the border between Syria and Turkey. Military clashes have profound consequences for besieged civilians.
For the thousands that fled Kobani, and the more than nine million who have been driven from their homes into other parts of Syria and to neighboring countries, the international humanitarian response can also be a matter of life and death.
I was in Berlin this week for a conference exploring how international donors can help Syria’s neighbors cope with the huge influx of refugees. The challenges these countries face are massive and growing. Lebanon now has the highest concentration of refugees of any nation in the world. Roughly one out of every four people living there is a refugee. Syria’s neighbors have been generous to Syrians in need. By allowing refugees to access life-saving assistance within their borders, these nations have saved millions in danger. But for their hospitality, their own people often pay a heavy price.
Government resources and services, and the patience of some host communities are being stretched to the breaking point. As refugees seek shelter and work, wages can fall and rents soar. Overcrowded schools run on double shifts, hospitals do not have enough beds, municipal water systems are overwhelmed, and tensions between local citizens and Syrians are on the rise. Governments throughout the region worry that hosting refugees could threaten their own stability, security, and prospects for economic growth.
As it responds to the Syrian crisis, the United States is striving to help meet host countries’ needs. We have provided more humanitarian aid than any other government, a total of more than $2.9 billion so far. Of this, half is assisting neighboring countries. We have also scaled up bilateral economic and development aid to these countries, providing a billion dollars to Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq and Egypt in year 2014 alone. These funds have helped rehabilitate schools, expand hospital wards, and construct water treatment plants, desperately needed by host communities and refugees alike. Earlier this week, Assistant Secretary Anne C. Richard announced that the United States has also taken the unprecedented step of providing $10 million from humanitarian funding to the UN Development Program.
This $10 million contribution will help close the gap between humanitarian funding, aimed at coping with the crisis, and development funding, geared toward longer term needs.
The United States urges other donors to contribute to the UN humanitarian appeals for Syria. So far, the contributions that have come in meet only half of what is required. The shortfalls will have real consequences: humanitarian agencies will be forced to cut food deliveries and fewer families will have adequate housing for the cold. As much as we have given, we must give more. Countries sheltering Syrians have been generous and made sacrifices to help people who were desperate. And we must do whatever we can to help them.
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