U.N. to need $8 billion this year to help Syrians at home and abroad

GENEVA (Reuters) - The United Nations said on Tuesday it will need a total of $8 billion this year to provide life-saving assistance to millions of Syrians inside their shattered homeland and to refugees and their host communities in neighboring countries.

Boys stand in front of a damaged wall in the rebel held besieged Douma neighbourhood of Damascus, Syria January 17, 2017. REUTERS/Bassam Khabieh

The first part, a $4.63 billion appeal for 5 million Syrian refugees - 70 percent of whom are women and children - was launched at a Helsinki conference. Funds will be used to provide food, rent, education and health care.

A separate appeal for an estimated $3.4 billion to fund its humanitarian operation to help 13.5 million people inside Syria after nearly six years of war, is being finalised.

“The crisis in Syria remains one of most complex, volatile and violent in the world,” U.N. humanitarian chief Stephen O’Brien told a news conference.

Attempts to end the conflict in Syria have so far failed. After two-day talks, Iran, Russia and Turkey earlier announced a trilateral mechanism to observe and ensure full compliance with a ceasefire.

“Of course we fear that it will get worse,” O’Brien said. “And even if peace was to take place from tonight, the humanitarian needs within Syria would continue for a good time to come.”

Five countries - Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq, Jordan and Egypt - host nearly 5 million Syrian refugees, a “staggering number”, with few in camps, U.N. refugee chief Filippo Grandi said.

“Even if Syrians have stopped arriving in Europe in any significant numbers, I hope that everybody realizes that the Syria refugee crisis has not gone away and continues to affect millions in host communities and continues to be a tragic situation,” he said.

It was too early to say whether any solution would lead to further displacement or people returning to their homes.

“There is uncertainty surrounding the political process, we all hope that it will move in the right direction, but we can’t tell. We’ve had disappointments in the past,” Grandi said.

Providing livelihoods and restoring basic utilities are a priority in Syria, said Helen Clark, administrator of the U.N. Development Programme (UNDP).

“Even were there to be a political settlement tomorrow, we would still be here seeking support for humanitarian relief for a country that has been brought to its knees, with 85 percent living in poverty, 50 percent in unemployment and with the severe economic and social impacts on the neighborhood.”

Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Tom Miles and Raissa Kasolowsky