World leaders gathered in London today to pledge support for the humanitarian response to aid those affected by the civil war in Syria. The conference seeks $9 billion for 2016, a sum it has no chance of receiving by year’s end. As the war grinds on, each year the ask is bigger, and each year it falls short.
The appeal is high because past pledges weren’t fully funded, meaning host countries and humanitarian groups are playing catch up. The call was answered – to some extent – to the tune of $6 billion, U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron announced today. The U.S. pledged about $925 million, the U.K. $1.7 billion, Germany $2.6 billion and the E.U. is expected to add $2 billion.
Despite efforts from aid groups to draw attention to the need, as the dust settles from this conference, history shows that at the end of the year the result will be same as it ever was – underfunded.
Over the past three years, as fighting in Syria worsened, the total annual appeal doubled from $4.3 billion in 2013. That year’s appeal was 70 percent funded. Barely half of the $7.2 billion needed for 2015 materialized. The U.N. alone more than doubled its appeal from $2.89 billion last year to $7.73 billion for 2016. The rhetoric surrounding the London event hones in on the urgency to respond and the effects of the crisis on Syrian children.
“In the next 24 hours the world has a historic opportunity to come together and pledge to stand by these people,” said U.K. International Development Secretary Justine Greening, in an OpEd ahead of the event. “This is a pivotal moment to offer the Syrian people and their children hope for a better future. … I want the world to offer a new vision of hope for its people. This is a historic moment that the world must grasp.”
The need is immense and the numbers are staggering. Some 13.5 million Syrians require humanitarian assistance. There are 6.5 million Syrians displaced from their homes and still living in the country. Another 4.6 million Syrians are living as refugees. Most of those refugees are living in neighboring countries, such as Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan.
Europe came under strain in 2015 as Syrian refugees poured into the region in record numbers. The Greek island of Lesbos has served as a sort of staging point from Turkey to allow the refugees, mostly from Syria, to settle in Europe. The treacherous boat trip has killed thousands and the sheer magnitude of people stretched the already limited humanitarian response thin. Pressure built in European countries to oppose the resettlement of refugees.
Pressure built in European countries to oppose the resettlement of refugees. But it is Syria’s neighboring countries, where most of the refugees remain, that are under the greatest strain. King Abdullah II of Jordan said that “the psyche of the Jordanian people, I think it’s gotten to boiling point,” in an interview ahead of the conference. Nearly $2 billion of the 2016 appeal would help countries like Jordan support the millions of refugees in the region.
A recent analysis by Oxfam shows that some countries, such as Germany, are going above and beyond to respond to the crisis both through humanitarian assistance and acceptance of refugees. The U.S., on the other hand, performs poorly in the ‘fair share analysis’ by a lot. Oxfam calculates that the U.S. should resettle more than 160,000 refugees in 2016, based on its economy. The Obama administration’s pledge for this year brings the total to nearly 12,000, well short of Oxfam’s projection.
“What we are witnessing now is a collective failure to deliver the necessary support to the region,” said Jan Egeland, head of Norwegian Refugee Council, in a statement. “We are witnessing a total collapse of international solidarity with millions of war victims.”