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Donors pledge €6.9 billion to help Syrians

Governments and organizations pledged €6.9 billion in humanitarian aid for people displaced inside Syria and for refugees who fled to neighboring countries.

BRUSSELS (AN) — Governments and organizations pledged €6.9 billion at a conference on Tuesday to provide food, medicine and other supplies for people displaced inside war-ravaged Syria and for refugees who fled for safety to neighboring countries.

With the war now in its 10th year, Syrians live in dire conditions compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic. The long drawn-out hostilities devastated the country and destabilized the region.

Yet the conference hosted by the European Union and United Nations struggled to win pledges of €4.9 billion, or US$5.5 billion, for humanitarian aid this year, and €2 billion, or US$2.2 billion, for 2021.

The funding promises from 80 governments and nongovernmental organizations were less than the €8.9 billion, or US$10 billion, in humanitarian aid that U.N. agencies said was needed for Syria, but more than they expected to raise given the world economic crisis brought on by the pandemic.

"We have today expressed solidarity with the Syrian people, not only with words, but with concrete pledges of support that will make a difference for millions of people," said Janez Lenarčič, the E.U. commissioner for crisis management.

Lenarčič told the daylong pledging conference, held by videoconference from E.U. headquarters in Brussels, that 71% of the pledges, or €4.9 billion, came from the 27-nation European bloc.

Among the top five donors for 2020, the most generous were the E.U. member nations and European Commission, plus Germany, which pledged €1 billion. They were followed by the United States, which pledged €621 million; the United Kingdom, €331 million; and Canada, €221 billion.

For 2021, the bulk of it also came from the E.U. bloc. The next most generous were Germany, €573 million; the Netherlands, €257 million; and Canada, €183 million.

Much of the aid, about 40%, will go to Syrian civilians who are displaced in both government-controlled and rebel territories. But the majority of it, the other 60%, was meant to help Syrian refugees who fled to neighboring Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt and Iraq.

Since the start of the conflict, Syrians have gotten €20 billion, or US$22.5 billion, in aid from E.U. member nations, and €10 billion, or US$11.3 billion, from the United States.

'Staying the course'

Syrian President Bashar Assad's government, backed by forces supported by Russia and Iran, has all but won the war, costing hundreds of thousands of lives and uprooting millions more, while Turkey built up troops in northwestern Syria. The war is now essentially being fought by proxies.

When the conflict began in March 2011, Syria had a population of 22 million people. U.N. officials stopped counting the dead, but the U.K.-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights estimates the death toll to be as high as 580,000.

About 6.7 million Syrians are internally displaced and 6.6 million are refugees, with about 90% of them living in urban areas of neighboring countries, according to the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, or UNHCR.

Millions of children in Syria have known nothing but war while another 1 million were born as refugees into a harsh life of primitive camps. Many are out of school and lack health facilities inside Syria and in neighboring countries. The war led to the 21st century’s worst humanitarian catastrophe so far, and the rise and fall and continued survival of the Islamic State group.

U.N. officials said that with inflation running high, basic food items for a family of five cost about 200% more than they did a year ago, so the costs of feeding Syria's 9.3 million "food insecure" population are rising fast. About half a million children are stunted from malnutrition. The aid also includes money for COVID-19 testing kits and supplies in Syria.

U.N. humanitarian chief Mark Lowcock, who oversees the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, or OCHA, said the situation in Syria and the region is not improving.

"We recognize that circumstances are very unusual. It's a difficult moment in every country to find the resources necessary to relieve the suffering of the Syrian people. But it is essential that we do go on doing that work," he told the virtual conference at its conclusion. "Staying the course is one of the most important things we have to do in these circumstances."

Though the conference fell short of its fundraising goal, Lowcock said beforehand that raising €4.9 billion for 2020 “would not be a bad outcome."

But Oxfam International said the amount raised was insufficient.

“The pledges made by donor governments are simply not enough to address the Syrian crisis with 1 million people at risk of starvation inside the country, and COVID-19 and an economic downturn hitting refugees and host communities in neighboring countries hard," said Marta Lorenzo, Oxfam’s Middle East and North Africa regional director.

"It’s shocking that the international community has failed to recognize the urgency of the situation despite clear calls from Syrian civil society," she said in a statement.