BRUSSELS: International donors on Tuesday (Mar 30) pledged US$6.4 billion in aid for Syria and refugees in neighbouring countries, falling well short of a UN target aimed at dealing with growing needs.
The United Nations had been hoping to raise a record US$10 billion at a two-day video conference as the coronavirus pandemic has helped push the number of people requiring assistance to new highs after a decade of conflict.
EU crisis management commissioner Janez Lenarcic said US$4.4 billion was promised for 2021 and US$2 billion was for 2022 and beyond. Donors also offered US$7 billion in loans.
The shortfall from the more than 50 donor nations at the fifth Brussels Conference on Syria, co-hosted by the European Union and the UN, was immediately condemned by international aid organisations working in Syria.
“The money pledged confirms fears that donors are not listening to the pleas of the millions of Syrians who have fled their homes and had their lives torn apart by ten years of conflict,” Moutaz Adham, Oxfam Syria’s country director, said in a statement.
“Many stated at the Brussels Conference that aid was needed now more than ever. Yet this funding sends a bleak message to those trying to find a future after ten years of darkness and despair.”
The UN said that the US$10 billion needed in 2021 was intended to be split with US$4.2 billion for humanitarian relief inside Syria, and the rest for refugees sheltering in the region.
The need for aid has increased on the back of the coronavirus pandemic and a slump in the value of the Syrian pound.
That is despite the intensity of the fighting dropping in Syria after the Russia-backed forces of President Bashar al-Assad reconquered most of the country.
“Things are getting worse, not better. More than 13 million people need humanitarian assistance to survive this year,” United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said.
“That’s over 20 per cent more than last year, and the majority of the population is now facing hunger.”
Syria’s neighbours including Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq face their own economic woes and struggle to cope with the burden of hosting vast numbers of refugees.
Overall the UN says that 24 million people need support in Syria and across the region – a rise of four million from last year.
Tuesday’s total pledge was less than the US$8 billion that EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said had been provided in aid over the past year.
Key donor Germany led the way this time round by vowing to contribute €1.74 billion (US$2 billion), ahead of US$600 million from the United States.
“The Syrian tragedy must not last another 10 years,” German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said.
Brussels said US$4.3 billion of the total had come from the EU, with the European Commission pledging US$1.3 billion and US$3 billion coming from EU members states.
The bloc – which worries that failure to help refugees in the Middle East could see them come to Europe – says it has given almost US$29 billion since 2011.
Some prominent donors like Britain were singled out for cutting their contributions from last year.
London slashed its initial pledge by more than 30 per cent to some US$280 million after the British government cut aid spending across the board.
“This latest reduction in aid to Syria is completely out of touch with the reality facing Syrians,” said David Miliband, former British foreign minister and now president of the International Rescue Committee.
The war in Syria has killed more than 388,000 people and displaced millions since the regime’s brutal repression of anti-government protests a decade ago.
Efforts have stalled to find a lasting peace deal to end a conflict that has pitched world powers against each other and fuelled the rise of the Islamic State group.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Monday launched an impassioned plea for key player Russia to reopen aid crossings to allow greater humanitarian access.
The Syrian foreign ministry dismissed the call as “hypocrisy”.
While Moscow has essentially declared Assad the victor of the war, Washington and its European allies say there must be accountability for crimes.
European countries insist they will not spend money on broader rebuilding in Syria until Assad commits to a genuine political process to resolve the conflict.