Syria aid pledges hit $3.8bn at donor meet – Kuwait contributes $500m – Amir, UN chief warn situation dire

HH the Amir of Kuwait Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah (center), United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon (left) and Kuwaiti Foreign Minister Sheikh Sabah Al-Khaled Al-Sabah attend the opening ceremony of the Third International Humanitarian Pledging Conference for Syria at Bayan Palace

HH the Amir of Kuwait Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah (center), United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon (left) and Kuwaiti Foreign Minister Sheikh Sabah Al-Khaled Al-Sabah attend the opening ceremony of the Third International Humanitarian Pledging Conference for Syria at Bayan Palace

KUWAIT: International donors pledged $3.8 billion yesterday to help alleviate war-torn Syria’s humanitarian crisis, which HH the Amir Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah warned was the worst in “modern history”. “I am pleased to announce the contribution of the State of Kuwait of the amount of $500 million from both the government and civil sectors, in support of the humanitarian situation” of the Syrian people, the Amir said. Addressing the Third International Pledging Humanitarian Conference for Syria, Sheikh Sabah said the meeting was held in the face of the “biggest humanitarian catastrophe witnessed by humanity in our contemporary history.” UN 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 conference, 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 ($1.2 billion), double the amount the bloc offered last year. 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. Saudi Arabia pledged $60 million. The UN had requested $8.4 billion this year – its largest appeal yet for the war-ravaged country. 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 mobilise significant funding”. The money pledged by the bloc consists of €500 million 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. Earlier in the day, he offered stinging remarks, saying he has “only shame and deep anger and frustration at the international community’s impotence to stop the war”. “They are not asking for sympathy, they are asking for help,” he said of the Syrian people. US Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power said that despite the UN making its largest humanitarian appeal in history, “many countries are giving the same amount, or even less than they have in the past.” Yesterday’s roughly half-billion-dollar US pledge is in addition to nearly $3.2 billion the country has provided since the conflict began, she said. “Years from now, when Syrians and the world look back on the country’s horrific crisis, they will remember which countries stepped up to help people in dire need, and which countries did little or nothing at all,” she told the conference.

Kuwait has hosted a donor conference for Syrians in each of the past two years, generating several billion dollars worth of pledges. Yesterday’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-Maatouq, UN special envoy for humanitarian affairs, said as he opened that meeting. The UN 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. UN 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 UN 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 prodemocracy demonstrations. — Agencies

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