War in Syria has sent more than 2 million people fleeing for bordering nations, “a disgraceful humanitarian calamity” that has accelerated in recent days ahead of an anticipated U.S. military strike, a United Nations official said, while one activist group argues that the estimate is too low.

The bulk of the refugees have done the obvious and crossed borders into neighboring countries, including Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon. Yet even more people have simply relocated within Syria, seeking to escape insurgent attacks, government attacks, or the potential U.S. attack. In a New York Times report Tuesday, António Guterres, the United Nations high commissioner for refugees, said in Switzerland that the pace of the exodus has accelerated in recent days.

It took two years of conflict in Syria for the refugee figure to reach one million, but only six more months to reach two million, Mr. Guterres noted. In addition, at least 4.5 million people have been driven from their homes inside Syria by the destruction and violence, meaning that close to one-third of the country’s population has been displaced by the civil war, and about half the population has needed humanitarian aid, Mr. Guterres said, putting Syria’s crisis at a level unseen in recent decades.

About 40,000 Syrians fled to Iraq in the last two weeks of August, and 13,000 arrived in Lebanon in the past week. Over all, close to 5,000 Syrians are leaving every day.

“It clearly demonstrates that we are witnessing a conflict in constant escalation,” Mr. Guterres said. “We have to be prepared for things to get much worse before, eventually, they start to get better.”

The Migration Policy Center argues that the number of refugees is even higher, since the U.N. is counting those “officially registered as refugees.” The human flow is straining resources, and has the potential of changing the makeup of other nations. One of four people now living in Lebanon, for example, is a Syrian refugee, the U.N. said. Leaders of the affected countries are to meet in Geneva on Wednesday to lay out the scope of the problem and try to cobble together some strategies to handle the flow, which carries the potential to further destabilize the Middle East.

Some 130,000 refugees have moved into the 3-square-mile Zaatari camp about 8 miles into Jordan from the Syrian border, making the temporary enclave the country’s fourth-largest city, even though in June 2012 it was just an empty space in the desert. A second camp, Azraq, designed to hold an additional 130,000 refugees, is under construction.

Despite the scope of the crisis, the U.N. refugee agency says less than half of the $1.1 billion it requested to meet the refugees’ needs this year has been delivered. Ironically, some $228 million of the $548 million that has been provided came from the U.S. The costs threaten to reduce aid to refugees elsewhere in the world, such as Africa, Guterres said, adding that the crisis is beyond the ability of any international aid group to resolve.

“The solution will have to be political,” Guterres said. “If no political solution is found, this will assume really catastrophic proportions.”

—Posted by Scott Martelle.

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