$2.4 billion raised for Syria crisis does not allay concerns

Syrian refugees eat their lunch outside their tents at a refugee camp in the eastern Lebanese border town of Arsal, Lebanon. (AP Photo/Bilal Hussein)
Mideast Lebanon Syria Refugee Students
A Syrian teacher, left, teaches on the first day of classes at a private school built for Syrian refugees in the southern port city of Sidon, Lebanon.
AP Photo/Mohammed Zaatari

International donors and charities pledged a total of $2.4 billion in aid for the Syrian crisis. It is only a fraction of the $6.5 billion needed to respond to the largest UN appeal ever.

A two-day conference in Kuwait brought together charities, donors and other global actors to rally support for the humanitarian crisis in and around Syria. The first day saw charities and NGOs pledge $400 million in aid. Kuwait led the way on Wednesday by pledging $500 million.

Roughly 70% of the $1.5 billion pledged in a similar conference last year has materialized to date. There is little reason to be confident that all of the money promised this week will be disbursed.

The three year old crisis has displaced an estimated 9 million people. An international response to the humanitarian problems caused by the fighting in Syria has struggled to meet increasing needs. Neighboring countries who are hosting the more than 4 million refugees are struggling to support all the incoming people.

“No country, no people should face hardship or calamity for helping Syrians in need. It is vital for this region and our world that the burden is shared. Let us reward the compassion of Syria’s neighbors with generosity and solidarity,” said UN Secretary General Ban ki-Moon.

The situation is getting harder.

An estimated 3.8 million people in Syria were provided food rations by the World Food Programme (WFP) in December. The UN agency says it is concerned by reports of malnutrition in some of the hardest-to-access regions, especially in and around Damascus.

“At the moment, it’s impossible for aid agencies to reach some of the worst-hit areas,” said Janet Symes from Christian Aid.

An estimated $35 million is needed each week for WFP to meet the food needs of people in and out of Syria. WFP says it plans to distribute food to 4.25 million people this month.

Pressure for improved humanitarian access was placed on the donors by Human Rights Watch ahead of the conference. A release by the group on Monday said that aid from Turkey has been denied access to people in northern Syria. Getting aid to the region takes a much as four times longer because direct access is not granted. International leaders need to take a harder stance against Syria’s obstructionism, said the release.

“Rather than congratulating Syria on taking small steps that are years overdue, donors should be demanding immediate access to besieged towns and supporting cross-border aid from Turkey,” said Peggy Hicks, global advocacy director at Human Rights Watch. “Russia and Iran in particular should press Syria to eliminate obstacles to humanitarian aid.”

Without better access, the UN says that roughly 245,000 people will be cut off from essential food aid. The plea may have worked. US Secretary of State John Kerry urged the Syrian regime to ensure safe humanitarian access in the country, during his remarks in Kuwait.

“If the regime can allow access to United Nations and international weapon inspectors, surely it can do the same for neutral international humanitarian assistance,” said Kerry.

The overall humanitarian response is made harder by a constant lack of money.

The United States continues as the highest monetary contributor to the response. Kerry pledged an $380 million in new assistance, bringing the US total to $1.7 billion in humanitarian aid since the start of the crisis.

The pledges were met with some concerns. Oxfam International released a statement shortly after the announcement saying that the $2.4 billion “falls short of the vast humanitarian need.”

“As the conflict nears its fourth year, millions of Syrians continue to require essential humanitarian aid to survive,” said Oxfam’s Syria Country Director Gareth Price-Jones. “Food, water, shelter, medical care, education are all represented by the $6.5 billion dollar appeal the UN has put forward, which itself underestimates the true scale of the need.”

The conference also provided an opportunity to renew calls for peace in Syria. Global leaders urged the people fighting in Syria to stop and put an end to the protracted crisis.

“I met a couple who lives in a UNHCR tent with their two daughters. The parents are worried about keeping their children warm during the winter. They need so much in terms of food, shelter and services – but the father said most of all, they need peace,” said Ban.

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Tom Murphy

Tom Murphy is a New Hampshire-based reporter for Humanosphere. Before joining Humanosphere, Tom founded and edited the aid blog A View From the Cave. His work has appeared in Foreign Policy, the Huffington Post, the Guardian, GlobalPost and Christian Science Monitor. He tweets at @viewfromthecave. Contact him at tmurphy[at]humanosphere.org.