A top UN aid official pleaded Tuesday for more international support for Lebanon, which is staggering under the burden of sheltering nearly a million refugees from Syria.
"It is imperative that the international community helps bear the brunt of the pressure on Lebanon," said Ross Mountain, the UN aid coordinator in the country.
"Lebanon is the largest per capita recipient of refugees anywhere in the world," he told reporters in Geneva.
The influx of nearly one million Syrian refugees, according to UN figures, has swollen Lebanon's population by 25 percent since the war broke out across the border in March 2011.
"This is equivalent to 80 million Mexicans arriving in the United States," said Mountain, a New Zealander who in the past has steered UN aid operations in East Timor, Mozambique, Liberia and Iraq.
Lebanon and Syria's other neighbours Turkey, Jordan and Iraq have provided a haven for the overwhelming majority of the 2.5 million people who have fled the conflict.
Signup to our newsletter and follow us on Facebook and Twitter!
The United Nations forecasts that registered refugees in Lebanon could reach 1.5 million by the end of the year.
Mountain called for a massive hike in funding to help the refugees, adding that a UN appeal for $1.9 billion (1.4 billion euros) is only 14 percent funded.
"When you look at the growth of the refugee population from a trickle of a few thousand to now a million over three years, that goes far beyond the resilience that one expects of Lebanon," Mountain said.
He cited a World Bank study showing that the Syrian war has so far cost the Lebanese economy some $7.5 billion in lost trade and tourism, as well as funds spent addressing the refugee crisis.
"We're already seeing signs of tension, not surprisingly, between the Syrians that are arriving and the Lebanese host communities," Mountain said.
"But the fear that many of us have is (of) rising tension between communities within Lebanon," he added.
Syria's sectarian conflict, pitting Sunni Muslim rebels against President Bashar al-Assad's Shiite supporters, who include the Lebanese Hezbollah militia, has fed tit-for-tat bombings and shootings in Lebanon, in a chilling echo of the country's 1975-90 civil war.