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UN raises $7.7bn to tackle Syria humanitarian crisis

Brussels conference raises less than the $10bn sought by UN agencies, as Syrians grapple with food insecurity and the coronavirus outbreak
In addition to the 11 million displaced Syrians, the UN says that nine million people lack adequate food supplies (AFP/File photo)

The United Nations raised $7.7bn in humanitarian aid for Syria on Tuesday, where more than nine years of war have displaced half of the country's population in a crisis exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic.

The Brussels IV Conference on Supporting the Future of Syria and the Region raised less than the almost $10bn sought by UN agencies. But according to some officials, the pledges were higher than expected, given the economic shock of Covid-19 on many governments and shortfalls in other aid appeals, notably for Yemen earlier this month.

"We recognise that the circumstances are very unusual, it is a difficult moment in every country to find the resources necessary to relieve the suffering of the Syrian people," UN aid chief Mark Lowcock said after the virtual donor conference by some 60 governments and non-official agencies.

UN agencies were hoping to obtain $6bn for the body's Syria Response and Resilience Programme for refugees outside the country, and another $3.8bn to go towards those displaced internally in Syria.

'It's shocking that the international community has failed to recognise the urgency of the situation, despite clear calls from Syrian civil society'

- Marta Lorenzo, Oxfam's Middle East and North Africa regional director

The war in Syria has killed more than 400,000 people and sparked a refugee exodus that has destabilised neighbouring countries and impacted Europe. Around 11 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance and some nine million do not have enough to eat.

The World Food Programme has said the economic downturn coupled with the coronavirus pandemic has caused food prices to increase by 200 percent in less than a year.

The European Union's foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, said that the lives of Syrians have been "destroyed" and people have been "deprived of normality" throughout the civil war.

"This conference shows that we are not forgetting the ongoing conflict," Borrell said.

"We are not forgetting the suffering of the Syrian people and we are mobilising international support behind United Nations Security Council resolutions and the United Nations-led process to settle the Syrian conflict," he said.

'Simply not enough'

Still, some charitable organisations said more funds were needed to provide support to the Syrian people, who are dealing with multiple crises.

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

"It's shocking that the international community has failed to recognise the urgency of the situation, despite clear calls from Syrian civil society."

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Lorenzo also hailed the support of the UN's cross-border resolution, which helped to secure humanitarian channels into the country.

“It's heartening to hear that there is so much support for a renewal of the cross-border resolution that has created a lifeline for millions of people in northwest Syria, who otherwise couldn’t be reached with life-saving food, water and medical assistance," she said.

"To achieve a just and lasting peace, the international community needs to set aside their rivalries and support inclusive peace negotiations that are Syrian-led, represent all, including women, and are committed to upholding human rights."

Last year, the Brussels Conference III raised around $7bn, a record amount for aid to Syria.

The EU said in a report last week that in 2019 donors contributed $10bn in grants to Turkey, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria.

This is the eighth conference on pledging funds for Syria and the fourth one hosted by the EU. The international community has raised $23bn over the years for Syrian refugees and internally displaced persons.