AS SYRIA was hit by one of the worst winter storms in 100 years,
the United Nations launched its biggest-ever humanitarian appeal.
It is calling for £4 billion of aid for the victims of the
country's civil war.
In 2014, about three-quarters of Syrians will need aid to
survive, a UN study has found. About half of the population do not
have enough food, the UN World Food Programme (WFP) said this
A severe storm, "Alexa", hit the region earlier this week,
bringing heavy snow, driving rain, and strong winds. The freezing
weather has destroyed root vegetables, further depleting meagre
food stocks. One resident of a rebel-held suburb of Damascus said:
"The ice killed our farms. All the vegetables that we tried to
The storm is also causing havoc in Lebanon, threatening more
than 800,000 Syrian refugees. On 12 December, the UN High
Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) announced that it had distributed
125,000 winter kits, but was struggling to reach thousands of
people cut off by the snow. "For the hundreds of thousands of
refugees in Lebanon, as well as those in neighbouring countries and
the displaced in Syria, a storm like this creates immense
additional hardship and suffering," said Amin Awad, director of
UNHCR's Middle East and North Africa bureau.
The aid agency World Vision said that there had been a rise in
respiratory diseases among Syrian children. "For months we have
been concerned about the dire consequences of the approaching
winter on these vulnerable families," said Joe Harbison, the
charity's Syria response director, "and we've been working to
protect as many people as we can. For Syrian refugees, time has run
out, and winter is here." World Vision's chief executive, Justin
Byworth, said: "The scale of the humanitarian disaster continues to
outstrip every projection that the international community makes.
Every time we think we have got a handle on it, the needs
The WFP began airlifting urgent supplies into the Al Hassakeh
region, in north-eastern Syria, on Sunday, and aims to deliver
enough food to feed 30,000 people for one month, despite the
insecurity of the region.
Amnesty, the human-rights campaigning group, has said that
European nations, including the UK, should be ashamed of their
limited response to the refugee crisis. Only ten countries within
the EU have promised to take in just 12,000 refugees from Syria, it
said. A UK Government spokesman told the BBC they had no plans to
resettle Syrians in Britain, but had donated £500 million so far
towards humanitarian relief.
On Tuesday, it was revealed that Abbas Khan, a British doctor
imprisoned in Syria for more than a year, had died, supposedly just
before he was to be released by the Assad regime. Mr Khan's family
said that the official explanation that he had taken his own life
was a "complete fiction", and accused the regime of killing him. Mr
Khan had been detained in November last year, 48 hours after he had
arrived in Syria to treat injured civilians.