U.N. launches 2015 Syria appeal, focuses on helping refugees' host nations

By Magdalena Mis LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - The United Nations called on Thursday for more than $8.4 billion to help nearly 18 million people in need in Syria, wrecked by civil war, and across the region in 2015. As well as calling for cash for essential humanitarian aid for millions of Syrians inside and outside their homeland, the annual appeal included for the first time development plans to help neighboring countries hosting Syrian refugees. Launched at a donor meeting in Berlin, the 2015 appeal includes $2.9 billion for more than 12 million people in need of humanitarian assistance inside Syria and $5.5 billion to help almost 6 million people elsewhere in the Middle East. "Syria's war is still escalating and the humanitarian situation is becoming protracted. Refugees and internally displaced people have exhausted their savings and resources, and host countries are at breaking point," said Antonio Guterrres, the head of the U.N. refugee agency UNHCR. "We need a new aid architecture that links support to the refugees with what is being done to stabilize the communities who host them." More than 3 million Syrians are being sheltered in five neighboring countries: Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Egypt, placing an enormous strain on those countries' resources. The United Nations estimates that this number will exceed 4 million by the end of 2015. The rest of the world has offered to take just 63,170 Syrian refugees and the lack of international support has left the main host countries struggling to cope. "We're looking to find new ways of helping and supporting (the refugees) and thereby also supporting the poorer communities in (host) countries ... which are already in need of support," Simon Ingram, head of communications for UNICEF in the Middle East and North Africa, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in a phone interview from Jordan. UNICEF, the U.N. children's agency, appealed for $903 million of the U.N. total for its programs, mainly to support water and sanitation, education and health projects. "We're doing much more to ensure that our assistance goes to those host communities themselves so that they can continue to share their services and make them available to the refugees who are living with them," said Ingram. As part of UNICEF's strategy to make its programs more sustainable, in Jordan the agency turned from delivering water by trucks to piping it directly to households. Ingram said UNICEF was working with local authorities to maintain and expand its infrastructure, which will also help local communities. The United Nations estimates that more than 20 million people in Jordan, Lebanon and Egypt will benefit from upgrades to infrastructure and to health, education, and water and sanitation services. (This story was refiled to removes extraneous word in the 10th paragraph.) (Reporting By Magdalena Mis; Editing by Tim Pearce)