KUWAIT CITY: An international conference in Kuwait generated at least $2.4 billion in pledges Wednesday from donors to alleviate the suffering of Syrians affected by their country’s civil war, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said.
The U.N. is asking for a staggering $6.5 billion this year to help Syrians affected by the war, its largest-ever funding appeal for a single crisis. Officials did not expect to raise the entirety in Kuwait, but they do hope the gathering focuses greater international attention on the conflict.
“The fighting has set Syria back by years, even decades,” the U.N.’s Ban said at the start of the event at the lavish Bayan Palace in the capital.
Kuwait’s emir, Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah, opened the conference by pledging $500 million, significantly topping the nation’s pledge of $300 million last year.
He pressed the U.N. Security Council to exert greater effort to end the crisis, and urged all those fighting in Syria to “put the fate of their country and the safety of their people above all other considerations.”
Kuwait’s Gulf neighbor Saudi Arabia promised an additional $60 million, saying that would boost its existing round of funding to a total $250 million, though it did not specify the time period. It promised $300 million at last year’s conference.
Qatar also promised $60 million.
Lebanon’s caretaker prime minister, Najib Mikati, urged the establishment of a safe haven inside Syria to ease the burden of host countries such as Lebanon. The U.S. pledged $76 million for Lebanon to help it cope with an estimated 1 million-plus refugees.
“The international community should seriously consider the idea [of creating] safe camps inside Syria,” Mikati said. He also urged the Arab and other nations to distance Lebanon from regional conflicts.
Following the conference, Mikati held separate meetings with Ban, the emir of Kuwait and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.
Kerry said upon his meeting with Mikati that his country would give Lebanon an additional $76 million to help with its “refugee challenge.”
Kerry said the U.S. overall pledge of $380 million would bring America’s humanitarian aid contribution to Syrian victims to $1.7 billion since the war began.
Half of the money – $177 million – will go to U.N. programs for victims still in Syria.
“We are under no illusion that our job, or any of our jobs here, are to just write a check,” said Kerry, who blamed Syrian President Bashar Assad for starving his people and blocking international aid workers from providing aid in some of Syria’s hardest-hit areas.
“The international community must use every tool at our disposal to draw the world’s attention to these offenses,” he said. “They are not just offenses against conscience. They also are offenses against the laws of war.”
The U.K. announced a pledge of 100 million pounds, or $164 million, while donor countries included Norway, Luxembourg and even violence-wracked Iraq, which promised $13 million in aid.
The conference took place a week before peace talks on Syria are due to be held in Switzerland.
Ban called on the opposition-in-exile National Coalition to join the upcoming Geneva II peace talks with a “coherent and unified delegation.”
“We have not yet received firm confirmation from them. We do not have much time left,” Ban added. “We have exactly one week left.”