Syria aid conference misses target by $3.6bn

Germany led donations with $2bn pledge but total fell short of Syria’s growing humanitarian needs

TOPSHOT - Syrian women and children sit by their belongings to wait for departure, as another group of Syrian families is released from the Kurdish-run al-Hol camp which holds suspected relatives of Islamic State (IS) group fighters, in Hasakeh governorate of northeastern Syria, on March 18, 2021. / AFP / Delil SOULEIMAN
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Donor nations pledged $6.4 billion to support war-ravaged Syrians on Tuesday, short of the $10bn that was being sought by conference hosts the UN and the EU.

Germany led the way at the two-day online conference by pledging $2bn, compared with $600 million from the US, for relief efforts in Syria and for the millions of refugees who fled the country during the 10-year conflict.

“Things are getting worse. We've had a decade of death, destruction, displacement, disease, dread and despair,” said senior UN humanitarian Mark Lowcock before the tally was announced.

“That's why we have the biggest ever response plan for Syria, and the region, this year.”

The plan includes $4.2bn to support more than 13 million needy people inside Syria, a 20 per cent increase from last year, and $5.8bn to assist refugees in Turkey, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Egypt.

Charles Lister, a director at the Middle East Institute, said on social media that the tally was an “enormous $3.6bn short of what the UN needs to meet the increasing humanitarian needs in Syria”.

Although the front lines of Syria’s civil war have changed little in recent months, there are still armed clashes, and the Covid-19 outbreak has worsened the country’s economic collapse, poverty and hunger.

The local currency has crashed and food prices have soared by 222 per cent from last year, pushing millions of people towards poverty and hunger.

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres on Tuesday highlighted Syria’s worsening aid crisis at an event to mark 10 years since the start of anti-government protests that spiralled into civil war.

“Nine in 10 Syrians now live in poverty, with 60 per cent of the population at risk of going hungry this year – the highest number ever in the history of the Syrian conflict,” Mr Guterres said.

“Parents are eating less so they can feed their children, and they are sending them to work instead of school. A generation of Syria’s children has never lived a day without war.”

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Mr Guterres this week pushed the UN Security Council to increase the number of border checkpoints that can be used to take food, medicine and other much-needed supplies into Syria.

Russia, an ally of Syrian President Bashar Al Assad’s government, has said the checkpoints are not necessary and that aid should be managed by Damascus and carried across front lines in the country.

Announcing a US pledge of $596m for aid work in Syria at the donor conference, Washington’s UN envoy Linda Thomas-Greenfield said checkpoints should remain open to aid convoys.

“Our message could not have been clearer,” Ms Thomas-Greenfield said.

“These continued closures have prevented vital humanitarian aid by the United States and by the United Nations.

"It is simply deplorable and it has unnecessarily deepened the suffering of millions of Syrians.”

The council is set to vote on cross-border aid operations again in July.