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Aid Agency: Syrian Conflict Causing 'Staggering' Humanitarian Crisis

A US-based aid agency warned Monday that the entire Middle East region is facing a "staggering" humanitarian crisis due to the ongoing conflict in Syria, and appealed to the international community to step up its response to the crisis.

The International Rescue Committee (IRC) noted in a 28-page report titled 'Syria : A Regional Crisis' that the "Middle East is once again facing a human displacement tragedy" due to displacement of hundreds of thousands of Syrians by the continued conflict in their home nation.

"Current assistance levels are drastically insufficient to address existing needs, let alone the barest requirements to respond to a lengthy humanitarian emergency and post-conflict recovery," the report said of the ongoing relief efforts for those displaced by the conflict.

Syria has been witnessing fierce fighting between government forces and armed rebels opposed to the regime of President Bashar al-Assad since March 2011. More than 60,000 people, mostly civilians, are believed to have been killed since the revolt began 22 months ago.

In addition, an estimated 600,000 Syrians have sought refuge in neighboring countries of Turkey, Iraq, Lebanon and Jordan as well as North Africa after fleeing the conflict, which is now viewed as a civil war by most of the international community.

The UN anticipates that number of Syrian refugees in neighboring nations could soon exceed the 1 million mark if the exodus continues at its current pace of about 3,000 refugees a day. This is over and above the 2 million displaced inside Syria. The UN now estimates that some 4 million Syrians are currently in dire need of assistance.

The conflict is now threatening to spill over to neighboring nations and increasingly becoming sectarian in nature. Nevertheless, continued international efforts to find a solution to the crisis have been hampered by a deep divide in the UN Security Council, with Russia and China backing the Assad regime and the West opposing it.

The IRC report released Monday said Syrian civilians were struggling to survive in communities besieged by violence, chaos and destruction. It added that many neighborhoods in Syria have been reduced to rubble, forcing thousands to move from one village to another to escape a moving front-line.

According to the aid agency, supplies of "food, water and electricity have sharply dwindled, sanitation in many areas has halted, increasing the threat of disease, yet medical care has become scarce." Citing Syrian physicians, the group accused the Syrian regime of launching"a systematic campaign to restrict access to lifesaving care through the strategic bombing and forced closure of medical facilities."

The report also highlighted horrific levels of sexual violence in the conflict, and described rape as "a significant and disturbing feature of the Syrian civil war." It noted that many refugees had cited rape as the main reason for leaving Syria.

"Many women and girls relayed accounts of being attacked in public or in their homes, primarily by armed men. These rapes, sometimes by multiple perpetrators, often occur in front of family members," the report stated, adding that women and girls are still being kidnapped, raped, tortured and killed in the unrest-hit nation.

The report called on the international community to put financial diplomatic and logistical plans in place for a regional humanitarian crisis that could last years, given the scale of displacement and destruction and the risk of regional instability and increased sectarian violence.

"Even if the conflict comes to a swift end, Syria will emerge in ruins—its social and civic fabric in shreds, its economic foundation and infrastructure devastated and its population scattered throughout the region—potentially unable for months if not years to return to shattered communities," it added.

Notably, the UN's World Food Program (WFP) had warned last week of the growing humanitarian needs in in Syria, noting that more than a million Syrians are going hungry due to acute food shortages. The agency said it is now assisting some 1.5 million of the estimated 2.5 million Syrians who are currently in need of food assistance.

by RTT Staff Writer

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