A Syrian man holds a candle during a vigil in Beirut in honor of his country’s refugees.
More than half of the population of Syria will likely need aid by the end of the year, the U.N. high commissioner for refugees has warned, adding that the civil crisis is the most serious the global body has ever dealt with.
Antonio Guterres has led the UNHCR office through the refugee crises in Afghanistan and Iraq. He said the Syrian civil war is more brutal and destructive than the devastation he saw in those countries, and was already the worst humanitarian disaster since the end of the Cold War.
The U.N. recently released new data on the refugees. Upward of 6.8 million Syrians need aid, and the number is likely to reach at least 10 million—more than half of the country’s prewar population. Another U.N. body said more than half of those in need are children.
“I don’t remember any other crisis where we are having 8,000 per day [fleeing across borders], every day since February,” Guterres said in an interview with the Guardian. “There will very likely be 3.5 million by the end of the year. We will have half the population of Syria in dire need of assistance and this is incomprehensible.”
With the civil war now into its third year and increasingly taking the shape of a proxy regional war fought across a sectarian faultline, aid groups are making ever more strident predictions of a catastrophic funding shortfall.
Guterres goes further, warning that the modern boundaries of the Middle East and the post-Ottoman agreements that underpin them may unravel if the crisis is not brought to an end.
“The political geography of the modern Middle East emerged from the Sykes-Picot agreement with the exception of the never-resolved Israeli-Palestinian situation,” he said of the Anglo-French deal at the end of the first world war that eventually formed the nation states of Syria and Lebanon. “The conflict in Syria might for the first time put that political geography into question.”