UN chief seeks Syria aid boost as economy tanks

UN seeks more than $10bn for people living in or having fled Syria, which faces war, disease, hunger and financial ruin

FILE - In this March 12, 2020 file photo, women walk in a neighborhood heavily damaged by airstrikes in Idlib, Syria. The humanitarian situation across war-ravaged Syria is worsening. But it’s been getting tougher every year to raise money from global donors to help people affected by the country’s protracted humanitarian crisis. The aid community is bracing for significant shortfalls ahead of a donor conference that starts Monday, March 29, 2021, in Brussels. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana, File)
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UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres on Tuesday urged donors to provide more than $10 billion for aid work in Syria and to help the millions of refugees who have fled the war-ravaged country in the past decade.

An online donor meeting hosted by the UN and the EU came amid sporadic fighting in Syria and a Covid-19 outbreak that has worsened the country's economic collapse and its soaring rates of poverty and hunger.

The UN is seeking $4.2bn to support more than 13 million needy people in Syria – a 20 per cent increase on last year – and $5.8bn to help refugees in nearby Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon and Egypt.

“I call on you to help us address rising needs and to step up your financial and humanitarian commitments to people in Syria, and help relieve the significant financial burden of the countries that are hosting refugees,” Mr Guterres said.

"Syria's economy has been ravaged and now the impacts of Covid-19 have made things worse. Almost half of all families lost their source of income. Nine in 10 Syrians are living in poverty."

Donors have grown tired of trying to fix Syria’s seemingly endless crisis.

The humanitarian appeal for 2020 was funded 45 per cent below its $3.82bn target and about a 14 per cent drop from the previous year.

The coronavirus pandemic has compounded Syria’s already dire economic crisis.

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.

A deal between Russia and Turkey has reduced the levels of fighting in Syria’s north-west, but the country’s humanitarian situation is worsening, with about 24 million Syrians at home and abroad needing aid – more than at any other time in the conflict.

“It has been 10 years of despair and disaster for Syrians,” UN aid chief Mark Lowcock said.

“Now plummeting living conditions, economic decline and Covid-19 result in more hunger, malnutrition and disease.

"There is less fighting but no peace dividend. More people need more help than at any point during the war and children must return to learning.”

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken this week urged the UN Security Council to increase the number of border checkpoints that can be used to bring 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 transported across front lines within the war-torn country.

“Every month, humanitarians bring help to 7.6 million people in Syria, including through cross-line and cross-border operations,” Mr Guterres told the donor conference.

“This is only possible thanks to the extraordinary commitment and endurance of humanitarians and health workers on the front lines.”

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