The international community will be "haunted" by a generation of human suffering and a fresh wave of security threats should it fail to honour financial commitments made to millions of Syrian refugees, the United Nations' top trouble-shooter warned.
In an exclusive interview with The Independent on Sunday, Amin Awad, the head of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in the Middle East, made the warning as new figures revealed that of the $6.5bn requested by the UN from donors, only a fifth has been delivered.
Mr Awad described the "protracted" civil war in Syria as forcing 120,000 people to flee the country each month. "These vast numbers of refugees are creating tension with host communities in the Middle East, where they are putting extraordinary strain on social cohesion and services, such as clean water, education and health care," he said.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was reported early last week to have claimed the civil war would be over by the end of the year. However, the bloody conflict shows little sign of abating, and Mr Awad confirmed that the UNHCR predicts there will be four million refugees in the region by the end of the year.
Mr Awad, who was in London last week as part of an international tour of donor capitals, said that despite President Assad's claim, there could be "no military solution to the conflict". He said the UNHCR would continue humanitarian assistance in Syria and throughout the region for at least the next two years.
Tensions in the region were most recently illustrated at the Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan, which is home to more than 100,000 Syrian refugees and said to be the second largest refugee camp in the world. A week ago, one person was killed and dozens injured when Jordanian security forces used tear gas against refugees who had set fire to tents, reportedly protesting at conditions.
Mr Awad said a lack of funding for refugee services combined with an "influx of new arrivals exacerbates the situation". He added: "The Zaatari camp incident was isolated, but it shows aggravation as result of the helplessness some of these refugees are feeling. You could see this sort of incident occurring elsewhere."
To support Syrian refugees in Jordan, Turkey, Iraq and Lebanon, the UN made its largest ever appeal in December for $6.5bn. Despite large donations from the US, Britain and Kuwait, only $2.3bn was pledged at a donor conference in January and only $1.29bn has been received to date, according to UN officials.
On the ground, Mr Awad said the "reality" of this shortfall was "fewer children going to school, a reduction in the food ration, substandard shelters in camps, a lack of professionals working to support vulnerable and traumatised women and children and a shortage of clean water, vaccines and other health services".
An analysis of the latest UN figures by The IoS shows that more than $200m promised by 12 countries has not yet been delivered. This includes $38.5m from Italy and $17.4m from Germany, as well as substantial pledges from Qatar, Oman and Saudi Arabia. One official at a major UK aid agency said that this failure to deliver funding was a typical example of "pledges being made in haste and delivered at leisure". Mr Awad said the sums of money involved were the equivalent of bailing out "just one bank" during the financial crisis.
The British Government has been praised for its financial commitment with more than £300m being donated to UN bodies, part of an overall package to the region worth £600m. The International Development Secretary, Justine Greening, said yesterday: "The conflict in Syria continues to destroy lives each and every day. The UK's response to this humanitarian crisis is our largest ever. But we cannot do it alone. Other countries must put their hands in their pockets and deliver on their promises."
Despite some positive signs, Mr Awad remains worried that the international community is "forgetting about the Syria problem". He warned: "The problem will show up in different shapes and will haunt us as a community for a generation... [from] organised crime and human trafficking to radicalisation and unlawful activity of whatever kind."
Despite Mr Awad's passionate calls for aid and refugee resettlement, he is most forceful on the need for a political solution to the Syrian crisis and the "fear that global attention to a solution is fading". He added: "We cannot subsidise our political shortfalls by focusing purely on humanitarian assistance."