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Aid in a World of Crisis

António Guterres, a former prime minister of Portugal, is set to become Secretary-General of the UN. He made this appeal for overhauling support for refugees at the height of the Syria crisis last year, as High Commissioner for Refugees.

DAVOS – Never in the 64-year history of the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) has it had to address so much human misery. At the beginning of 2014, more than 51 million people were displaced from their homes, uprooted by conflict and persecution. Many more have had to flee in the past twelve months.

Protracted wars, environmental disasters, and state failure have stretched the international humanitarian-aid system passed its breaking point. If the UNHCR and other relief agencies are to address the unprecedented amount of human need, they will have to broaden their base of support. Without a massive scaling up of private-sector involvement, both in terms of shared expertise and funding support, we will fail to provide for millions of people who have lost almost everything.

Syria is the canary in the coalmine. The conflict is the biggest humanitarian crisis of our era and a harbinger of potentially far worse to come. The flow of refugees to neighboring countries has taken on a dimension beyond any that I have previously encountered. In Lebanon – a small country beset by its own internal difficulties – Syrians now make up more than a quarter of the population. There, as well as in Jordan and Turkey, local residents are facing financial ruin as rents and prices soar, unemployment rises, and salaries fall.