GENEVA -- Syria's conflict is now driving 5,000 people to seek safety in neighboring countries every day, the United Nations refugee agency said on Friday, reporting a surge in their numbers in January.
"This is a full-on crisis," Adrian Edwards, a spokesman for the agency, told journalists in Geneva, reporting a 25 percent increase in the number of Syrian refugees registered in the region in January.
The surge brought the numbers this week to 787,000, an increase of more than 50 percent since mid-December, Mr. Edwards said. The numbers now include 260,943 in Lebanon, the first country to exceed a quarter of a million Syrian refugees; 242,649 in Jordan; 177,180 in Turkey; and 84,852 in Iraq.
The refugee agency reported in late January that it was registering up to 1,800 refugees a day in Lebanon and was opening new registration centers to try to cope with the influx. But its latest figures show that the daily flow of Syrians to Lebanon is now over 2,500 a day, and the heavy fighting in and around Damascus, the Syrian capital, which is only around 15 miles from the Lebanese border, could send the numbers higher.
A report released on Thursday by the French medical relief agency Doctors Without Borders warned that major gaps had arisen in assistance for refugees in Lebanon and that their profound humanitarian needs were not being met.
The report, drawing on a survey in December, found problematic delays in registration, which opens up access to assistance. The report said that up to half of the refugees interviewed were living in shelters that provided little protection against weather and that many were unable to access or afford medical care for chronic diseases. "The general conditions of health for refugees in Lebanon are below the level we observe elsewhere" in the region, Bruno Jochum, the group's general director, told reporters in Geneva on Thursday.
Fears are also mounting over the increased risks of disease inside Syria, particularly among the more than two million people estimated to have been displaced by fighting, as a result of a disruption in Syria's water supply.
The United Nations children's agency, Unicef, said on Friday that a survey of six Syrian areas, including rural Damascus, Homs and Aleppo, found that people in conflict areas were receiving about one-third of the water they were getting before the crisis, and that the lack of water-treatment chemicals increased the risk that supplies had been contaminated.
The World Health Organization last week drew attention to rising cases of hepatitis A and other waterborne diseases. Doctors Without Borders, which operates three field hospitals in northern Syria, said this week that leishmaniasis, a parasitic skin disease, was endemic but going untreated in areas around Aleppo.
Syrians reaching the Zaatari refugee camp in northern Jordan reported widespread cases of diarrhea among children as well as scabies and skin lice, a Unicef spokeswoman, Marixie Mercado, told reporters in Geneva on Friday.
Unicef this month started an operation to bring in a thousand metric tons of sodium hypochlorite, which it said would be sufficient to provide safe water for 10 million people for three months. Around 160 tons of the chemical arrived this week bound for Homs, Aleppo, Idlib and Hama, she said.world
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.