The United States announced Thursday it would hike its humanitarian aid to Syria, adding another $12 million to provide food, water, medicine and other necessities for battered and displaced people.
The increase approved by the Obama administration brings American humanitarian assistance in Syria to more than $76 million, including $27.5 million to the World Food Program, roughly $18 million for the United Nations refugee agency and the rest split among other U.N. funds and nonprofit groups.
The World Food Program alone had earlier said it was facing a funding shortfall of roughly $62 million out of a $103-million budget. That daunting figure did not include the newly announced funding from the U.S., according to spokeswoman Abeer Etefa.
The increase in humanitarian aid comes as thousands more refugees have streamed out of the city of Aleppo and surrounding areas. An estimated 200,000 people are believed to have abandoned the city over the weekend as government forces battled rebels. More than 1.5 million Syrians are urgently in need of food aid, according to the United Nations.
The crisis has damaged crops and irrigation systems, costing the Syrian agricultural sector nearly $1.8 billion, the United Nations and the Syrian government said in a joint assessment released Thursday. Wheat and barley along with cherry and olive trees have been badly affected by the fighting.
"Winter is fast approaching and urgent action is needed before then,” said Abdulla BinYehia, Food and Agriculture Organization representative in Syria.
The White House urged other countries to donate more in response to a joint appeal by the U.N. and dozens of nonprofits for $193 million to assist fleeing Syrians. As of the middle of July, the effort had gotten only a third of the funding it was seeking. The U.N. is also seeking $180 million to help those inside Syria.
The same violence that has ramped up the needs that aid agencies are trying to meet has hindered their work within the country, making it harder to reach badly hit areas.
“The quickest way to end the bloodshed and suffering of the Syrian people is for [Syrian President] Bashar Assad to recognize that the Syrian people will not allow him to continue in power, and to step aside to enable a peaceful political transition to a government that is responsive to the aspirations of the Syrian people,” the White House said in a statement Thursday.
-- Emily Alpert in Los Angeles
Photo: A Syrian boy jumps off a burned-out army armored vehicle in the northern town of Atareb on Tuesday. Credit: Ahmad Gharabli / Agence France-Presse/Getty Images