GENEVA -- As Syria's crisis moves into its third year, international relief agencies are expressing alarm at the slow arrival and modest levels of financial support they are receiving to help the tens of thousands of civilians who have been fleeing the conflict and the millions trapped inside the country whose plight becomes more desperate.
Halfway into an appeal for $1.5 billion to cover the cost of aid to Syrians in the first six month of the year, United Nations officials say they have received barely one-fifth of the money. "That math just doesn't work," said Radhouane Nouicer, the United Nations's regional humanitarian coordinator, in a statement from the Jordanian capital, Amman, on Friday. "It translates into less food, fewer blankets, fewer medicines, less clean water."
The sluggish pace of money that has been pledged is only part of the problem. The rising violence in Syria has accelerated the flow of refugees, making the need more severe, United Nations officials say.
Their appeal for expedited flows of humanitarian donations came as European leaders were weighing whether to ease a ban on the arms embargo to Syria as a way to help the insurgents who are fighting to topple President Bashar al-Assad, whose harsh repression of a peaceful political uprising in March 2011 signaled the start of what has become a civil war.
Both France and Britain have increasingly made clear they are in favor of arming the insurgents, a position that is not widely shared among other European Union members. The United States remains opposed to providing weapons to the Syrian rebels. Ban Ki-moon, the United Nations secretary general, has repeatedly expressed opposition to a further militarization of the conflict, which has left more than 70,000 people dead.
When the United Nations began its appeal in December, its refugee agency was coping with a little more than half a million refugees, a number that had been expected to double by June. The refugee population surpassed 1 million last week. By Thursday, an additional 126,000 refugees had been registered.
"It gives us a chilly feeling down our spine," Amin Awad, the refugee agency's emergency director based in Geneva said in a telephone interview, explaining that it had committed more than half its stocks for global emergency responses to its Syrian operation. "This is the worst crisis in terms of funding in recent history. We are basically living week by week," he said.
Unicef, the United Nations Children's Fund, reported on Friday that it had raised around $45 million for Syrian aid, or more than one-fifth of the $220 million it is seeking for all of 2013, but that it had to borrow $32 million from its own core resources to keep operations going in the past year and is still appealing urgently for additional money.
"We have been able to secure enough resources to keep going in the immediate weeks ahead," Ted Chaiban, its emergencies director, said by telephone, "but there's no doubt that funding is a constraint."
Key components of Unicef's Syrian operations are its drinking water supplies for about 10 million people, mobile clinics in areas where the fighting endangers civilians and programs to vaccinate children against polio and measles.
Unicef has warned that a funding lag could prevent it from inoculating millions of Syrian children. Unicef also has warned that Syria's children risk becoming a "lost generation," traumatized by the violence and the near collapse of the country's education system.
United Nations officials have little leverage to pressure countries that pledged $1.5 billion at a Syrian donor conference held in Kuwait a few months ago to make good on their promises.
Given the almost daily headlines on Syria, "we're a little surprised that this money is not coming forward," Jens Laerke, a spokesman for the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, told reporters in Geneva on Friday.
In Brussels, European Union leaders asked their foreign ministers to discuss the bloc's arms embargo on Syria as a matter of urgency at a meeting to be held in Dublin on March 22 and 23, the European Council president, Herman Van Rompuy, said after a two-day summit.
France and Britain are pushing their colleagues to lift the embargo immediately, and the French in particular have become increasingly outspoken on the issue. But other European Union officials at the summit, including its foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, expressed doubt about the wisdom of such a move.
President François Hollande of France told reporters he had even received guarantees from the Syrian opposition that no weapons would fall into the hands of Islamist extremists who have joined the fight against the Assad government. There is considerable skepticism, however, that Syria's opposition can reliably make such guarantees.
Asked about the French position, a United Nations spokesman, Eduardo del Buey, reiterated the secretary general's view that the introduction of more weapons into Syria is "counterproductive and will not lead to a solution. He said "President Hollande knows what the secretary's views are."
Germany and Austria are among the European Union members that remain opposed to lifting the embargo. But it will lapse in any case at the end of May if Britain and France continue to oppose it.
Germany has a "whole range of reservations" over lifting the embargo, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Friday, as she warned that a common European position might not be reached. "It is an extremely difficult situation," she told a news conference at the end of the summit.
Nick Cumming-Bruce reported from Geneva, and Steven Erlanger from Brussels. Andrew Higgins contributed reporting from Brussels, and Rick Gladstone from New York.world
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.