GENEVA (Reuters) - The United Nations launched a $5 billion aid effort on Friday, its biggest ever, to help up to 10.25 million Syrians, half the population, who it expects will need help by the end of 2013.
The appeal comprises $2.9 billion for refugees, $1.4 billion for humanitarian aid and $830 million for Lebanon and Jordan, the biggest recipients of Syrian refugees.
High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres said the $5 billion funding target was massive but achievable.
"Let's put it into perspective," he said. "It represents what the Americans spend on ice creams in 32 days. It represents what the Australians spend on overseas travel in 10 weeks. It represents what German drivers spend on petrol in six weeks.
"It is really very little compared with what is usually spent for other purposes in the world."
The appeal updates and multiplies the existing aid plan for Syria, which sought $1.5 billion to help 4 million people within Syria and up to 1.1 million refugees by June. The worsening conflict soon overtook those projections.
The new forecasts expect the refugee population to more than double to 3.45 million from 1.6 million now, based on current numbers arriving in Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Iraq and Egypt.
But it assumes the number of needy Syrians inside the country will remain static until the end of the year at 6.8 million. The number of internally displaced Syrians is also assumed to stay where it is now, at about 4.25 million.
That means the current plan could again turn out to be an underestimate if the fighting goes on.
"It's not that we are not doing contingency planning or reflecting on how the numbers might rise, but in the data that I've put to our donors in this document, I'm trying to be as accurate as possible to reflect the situation as it is now," said the U.N.'s Emergency Relief Coordinator Valerie Amos.
Two years of conflict have already set back Syria's development by two decades, Amos said. Its currency has depreciated by about 67 percent.
One U.N. agency, the World Food Programme (WFP), which has delivered 500 million meals in Syria so far this year, expects its weekly costs to rise from almost $20 million now to $36 million towards the end of the year.
"We have reached a stage in Syria where some of the people, if they don't get food from the World Food Programme, they simply do not eat," the WFP's Syria Regional Emergency Coordinator Muhannad Hadi said.
"If mothers do not get food on the promised day when we would deliver food, there is nothing for them to give their children. Their children will go to bed on an empty stomach."
The United States and Russia are hoping to bring an end to the war by holding talks on Syria in Geneva, possibly in July.
If the fighting stops, WFP expects the food crisis to be resolved relatively quickly, but other agencies may have to step up their work if they can suddenly access the whole country, which is currently riddled with roadblocks and checkpoints.
"If the fighting doesn't stop, we risk an explosion in the Middle East that the international community is simply not prepared for," said Guterres.
The biggest donors so far are the European Commission, which promised another 400 million euros on Thursday, followed by Kuwait, the United States, Britain and Japan.
Russia and China have so far contributed $10 million and $1 million to the UNHCR, Guterres said.
Russia's Ambassador in Geneva Alexey Borodavkin, speaking at a Russian-sponsored meeting of Syrian religious leaders, said he had just received instructions from Moscow to announce a contribution of tens of millions of dollars this month.
He said Russia also supplied help worth tens of millions of dollars directly to Syria and millions more to the International Committee of the Red Cross. Other nations that had pledged money had not honoured their promises, he said.
"A few months ago I would like to recall that there was a donors' conference in Kuwait, and Persian Gulf monarchies promised to donate hundreds of millions of dollars to the U.N. agencies in order to help Syria," the ambassador added.
"I don't think that the amounts mentioned in Kuwait ever reached these agencies and were ever used to help the Syrian people."
Reporting by Tom Miles; Editing by Andrew Roche