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UN’s next stop: Humanitarian summit to resolve exploding refugee crisis

The UN sets its sights on the first World Humanitarian Summit scheduled to take place in Istanbul next year
Billions of dollars of humanitarian aid pledged last year have been used to provide food, medical relief and other life-saving support to millions of Syrian families (Beshr Abdulhadi/CC-BY-2.0)
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KUWAIT CITY - As the world’s spreading humanitarian crisis threatens to spill beyond the borders of Syria and Iraq into Libya and Yemen, the United Nations is already setting its sights on the first World Humanitarian Summit scheduled to take place in Istanbul next year.

“Let us make the response to the Syria crisis a launching pad for a new, truly global partnership for humanitarian response,” says Antonio Guterres, the UN high commissioner for refugees.

That partnership could come in Istanbul in May next year – even as the refugee crisis may worsen in the next 12 months.

The flow of some 12.2mn refugees from Syria alone is having a devastating impact on the economies and societies in five countries: Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, Turkey and Egypt.

Putting it in the context of the Western world, Guterres told the international pledging conference for humanitarian aid to Syria, “The number of Syrian refugees registered in Lebanon would be equivalent to 22.5mn refugees coming to Germany and 88mn arriving in the United States.”

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon pointedly said the Syrian people are “victims of the worst humanitarian crisis of our time” – with over 220,000 dead.

US Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power described the $8.4 bn target as “the largest in history, and 3.4 bn more than last year’s appeal”.

“Yet too many countries are giving the same amount, or even less than they have in the past,” she complained. “And as more people need help, we are reaching a smaller share of them.”

The three major donors at this year’s pledging conference were: the European Commission (EC) and its member states (with a contribution of nearly $1bn), the US ($507mn) and Kuwait ($500mn).

Several international non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and charities, including the Turkish Humanitarian Relief Foundation, the Qatar Red Crescent Society and the Islamic Charity Organisation of Kuwait, jointly pledged about $500mn.

Meanwhile, 48 hours after the donor conference pledged $3.8bn for humanitarian aid, the UN said it would continue to appeal for additional funds to meet its targeted $8.4bn by the end of 2015.

UN Office for Coordination and Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) Amanda Pitt told IPS that the requirements for the Syria crisis are $8.4bn for the whole of 2015 and for the whole crisis (including inside Syria, and efforts in the region.

“The Kuwait pledging conference was one event in the year’s fundraising efforts – which saw a number of donors generously pledge $3.8bn,” she said.

But fundraising will continue throughout the year – as it does every year for all the humanitarian appeals, she added.

Responding to reports that the pledging conference had fallen short of its expectations, the UN said it didn’t expect the target of $8.4bn to be met at the conference in Kuwait on Tuesday.

Farhan Haq, UN deputy spokesperson, told reporters, “One of the things we said in advance, we didn’t have any particular targets for this meeting.”

He said, “This meeting is one step of the process, and in fact, it’s extremely impressive that we got as much as $3.8bn.”

“If you compare the figures for pledges this year compared to last, we’re actually doing really quite well,” he insisted.

“At the same time, of course, the needs have grown, and as the year progresses, we’re going to keep trying to get closer and closer to the $8.4bn figure.”

So two things need to happen, he noted.

“First of all, we do need ultimately to go beyond the pledges that we receive today, so that we get to $8.4bn, which is what we’ve estimated [are] the needs both within Syria and in the neighbouring countries.”

But second of all, he said, “We also have to, as always, make sure that these pledges are converted into actual cash and actual assistance on the ground, and we’ll start doing that right away.”

The rates of delivery of the last two pledging conferences in 2013 and 2014, both held in Kuwait, have been described as relatively good.

In January 2014, the second pledging conference in Kuwait raised $2.4bn.

Ninety per cent of those funds have since been disbursed to provide life-saving support for millions of families in Syria and the region, according to OCHA.

“Last year, some 8.9mn people received basic relief items, more than five million people received monthly food aid, two million children were helped to go to school and millions received medical treatment and had access to clean water thanks to these contributions,” OCHA said.

“People have experienced breathtaking levels of violence and savagery in Syria,” said UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Valerie Amos.

“While we cannot bring peace, this funding will help humanitarian organisations deliver life-saving food, water, shelter, health services and other relief to millions of people in urgent need,” she added.