Middle East

Syria aid pledges hit $3.8 billion

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon attends the Third International Humanitarian Pledging Conference for Syria in Bayan Palace March 31, 2015. REUTERS/Stephanie McGehee

KUWAIT CITY: International donors pledged $3.8 billion Tuesday to help alleviate war-torn Syria's humanitarian crisis, which Kuwait's emir warned was the worst in "modern history."

U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon told participants at the meeting in Kuwait that four out of five people in Syria were living in "poverty, misery and deprivation."

"The Syrian people are victims of the worst humanitarian crisis of our time," he said.

Addressing the closing session of the Third International Pledging Conference for Syria, Ban welcomed the promised funds as "very generous."

The amount almost equals the combined total of $3.9 billion promised at the two previous conferences.

The EU pledged nearly 1.1 billion euros ($1.2 billion), double the amount the bloc offered last year, while Kuwait opened the conference with a promise of $500 million.

The United States pledged $507 million and non-governmental organizations committed more than $500 million.

Other major contributions came from Britain with $150 million, United Arab Emirates with $100 million and Norway which promised $93 million.

Jordan and Lebanon, which together host close to 2.5 million refugees, were represented by their premiers who appealed for international aid to help their economies cope with the tragedy.

Qatar's Foreign Minister Khalid Al-Attiyah proposed to set up a special fund for the education of Syrian children.

In Brussels, EU aid commissioner Christos Stylianides said in a statement that "the needs are overwhelming, and an extraordinary effort is needed by the wider donor community to mobilize significant funding."

The money pledged by the bloc consists of 500 million euros in "humanitarian aid, early recovery and longer-term stabilization assistance" from the European Commission, with the balance coming in pledges from the bloc's 28 countries, the EU said.

"Four out of five Syrians live in poverty, misery and deprivation. The country has lost nearly four decades of human development," Ban said.

Kuwait has hosted a donor conference for Syrians in each of the past two years, generating several billion dollars worth of pledges.

Tuesday's conference, attended by representatives from nearly 80 countries, was preceded by a meeting of charitable organizations, which pledged a total of $506 million.

"Failing to meet the required funds risks resulting in a horrifying and dangerous humanitarian catastrophe," Abdullah al-Maatuq, U.N. special envoy for humanitarian affairs, said as he opened that meeting.

The U.N. has complained that not all previous pledges for aid had translated into funding.

Ban said in a report last week that the war had forced around 7.6 million people to leave their homes in Syria, while another 3.9 million have sought refuge in neighboring countries.

"Every day brings more death, displacement and destruction," the report said.

U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres warned of an "unsustainable" situation.

"After four years of conflict, we are at a tipping point. It is clear that the world's response to the crisis in Syria cannot be business as usual. The situation is becoming unsustainable," he said.

Almost half of all Syrians have been forced to flee their homes, the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said.

The United Nations has launched an appeal for $8.4 billion in 2015 to fund its humanitarian operations in Syria, with $5.5 billion intended for Syrian refugees and $2.9 billion for people inside the war-ravaged country.

On Monday, international aid agency Oxfam criticised the international response to the Syrian crisis, saying money pledged was woefully inadequate.

Last year was the deadliest yet in the conflict, with at least 76,000 people killed out of a total of more than 215,000 since it began in March 2011 with peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations.

 

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