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Conflict

Aid groups struggling to manage Syrian crisis

Millions of Syrians are fleeing the war and misery in their own land. Taking care of Syrian refugees and victims of war is difficult and dangerous. Now, many aid agencies are sounding the alarm: money is running low.

Syrian Arab Red Crescent ambulances rushing through Homs

Syrian Arab Red Crescent ambulances rushing through Homs

New estimates indicate that the magnitude of the humanitarian crisis in Syria is growing: 5 million Syrians - nearly a quarter of the population - are trying to escape the war, according to the United Nations refugee agency UNHCR. Of these, 4 million are seeking protection from the fighting and growing hardship within Syria. The UN World Food Program, which currently feeds 2.5 million people, may not be able to withstand the strain for much longer.

In a dramatic appeal, several UN agencies are warning that the need for help is increasing, while the possibilities to do something are shrinking. Some sources of assistance will apparently be drained within weeks.

Jens Laerke, spokesman for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) told DW that the Syrian people "need basically everything." After two years of civil war with more than 70,000 dead, the country's infrastructure is largely destroyed.

About every third building in Syria is heavily damaged, Laerke said. Half of the hospitals are damaged, or completely destroyed. One in five of schools can no longer offer lessons, while those lessons still taking place face getting caught in the crossfire, or finding internally displaced persons occupying the space. Electricity and water services have been cut in many places.

Syrian refugees hang out their clothes to dry in the ruins of the ancient Roman city of of Serjilla

Syrian refugees are seeking any living space, including in the ruins of the ancient Roman city of of Serjilla

Hospitals targeted

Eckhardt Flohr, a physician, who was in Aleppo with the children's aid group Hammer Forum, told DW that health infrastructure has been especially affected, with many hospitals apparently targeted. Despite this, Syrian doctors continue to do their best to try to take care of the sick and injured.

"Doctors there do incredible things, they're carrying out operations in basements," Flohr said. At the moment, supplies are still available in the city, but prices for food have skyrocketed. Flohr warned of a looming hunger crisis, if food runs out.

Rima Kamal of the International Committee of the Red Cross expressed concern as well over psychic trauma. Many Syrians fear going to sleep at night and not waking up again in the morning. Beside anxiety over their own lives and safety, as well as for their families caught in the conflict, they also constantly have to worry about their living quarters remaining intact.

In order to help the civilian population, countries that donate aid - such as Germany - have beefed up their contributions. According to the German Foreign Ministry, the country has given 125 million euros ($165 million) to date to Syria and neighboring countries affected by the crisis.

Crowd of Syrians fighting for food in aid distribution

Serious crop failures in Syria could lead to famine - increasing the desperation for food aid

Appeal to donor countries

But international assistance is running out. "We do not have the money that we need," said Laerke of OCHA. The UN branch asked for $1.5 billion (1.1 billion euros) to carry it through the first six months of this year - $520 million (395 million euros) for projects within Syria, and the rest for refugee support in neighboring countries, Laerke said. But so far, only 41 percent of this desperately needed money has been forthcoming, he pointed out.

Even when they are available, aid items don't always reach the victims of war. Fighting makes transport difficult and dangerous - in both rebel and government-controlled areas. Aid organizations must enter into lengthy negotiations with rebels and government troops over access to needy populations on both sides of the conflict.

According to Kamal of the Red Cross, their teams and those of their sister organization the Syrian Arab Red Crescent have so far been able to maintain access to most regions.

Risky aid

Syria's war children

Aid convoys cross the front lines nearly every day. But it's a risky effort, with Red Cross workers constantly balancing the needs of the people against the danger of delivering aid. The Syrian Arab Red Crescent says it has lost 17 workers in 2013 so far.

"Every single move we make is risky," Kamal told DW. "But if you would just say, 'the situation is dangerous,' then we would be stuck in the office and would never move," she said.

And guarantees for security aren't always reliable on the ground. The situation is unpredictable, and "you can always end up being in the wrong place and at the wrong time," Kamal said.

DW.DE

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