It's been called the worst humanitarian crisis in decades.
We are approaching two tragic milestones in the Syria crisis: four years of conflict and four million refugees in the immediate region. An estimated 7.6 million Syrians are internally displaced. Fortunately, the neighboring countries of asylum have managed to keep their borders largely open to Syrians in need of safety. While billions of dollars have been spent on the humanitarian response, it still feels like only minor progress has been made.
Although the needs continue to grow, funding shortfalls have increased each of the last four years. In December, the UN issued its largest ever humanitarian appeal at approximately $8.4 billion. Its last appeal of $6.4 billion was only half-funded, meaning the humanitarian community is forced to do more with less. Many aspects of the situation on the ground seem static -- or indeed worse -- when compared to the spring of almost four years ago.
Refugees continue to stream out of Syria to escape the violence; the UNHCR expects another quarter of a million this year. A situation that Syrians once thought might last a few weeks, or a few months at worst, continues to become more complex and more deadly. Worse, a political resolution of the crisis does not appear any closer. More and more Syrians are internally displaced or in need of humanitarian assistance. Special Envoy Staffan de Mistura's plan for humanitarian freezes inside Syria is one prospect on the horizon, but it will not end the conflict nor will it assure ongoing safety for those who haven't been able to escape.
One noteworthy development was the series of UN Security Council resolutions surrounding cross-border humanitarian aid into Syria after years of deliberations. The ability to provide support from neighboring countries without the approval of the Syrian regime has helped an estimated 700,000 people. On the other hand, the resolutions have not helped reach the millions in need, and were even described as having "no impact." Clearly, any progress that has been made has been minimal.
It's hard to think what comes next. It's unlikely that billions of dollars in funding will materialize in 2015, access inside Syria will suddenly change or the fighting will stop any time soon. More refugees will leave, but the majority of Syrian civilians will remain caught inside the county's borders with limited assistance for survival. These realities mean the Syrian crisis will slide lower and lower on everyone's list of priorities, as has happened over the course of almost four years.
But even in the face of such an overwhelming catastrophe, we need to keep putting all we have into Syria Year Five. Changes will probably be small, but they can happen. More refugees can be resettled, national services in host countries can be bolstered, and more local Syrian groups can be supported in providing humanitarian aid inside the country.
As long as the fighting continues, refugees will continue to stream out of Syria, and millions will continue to be displaced inside Syria. It's hard to believe the already dire humanitarian crisis could get even worse. While there's no quick fix at this point, more must be done. We must do all we can to mitigate the suffering while we wait for a solution.