UN raises $ 6.4 billion for Syrians as humanitarian needs rise

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BRUSSELS (Reuters) – International donors on Tuesday pledged $ 6.4 billion in humanitarian aid to help Syrians fleeing a decade of civil war, but fell short of a target of $ 10 billion as governments grapple with struggling with weakened economies amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

At the fifth annual conference to prevent Syrians from starving to death, the event organized by the European Union called for $ 4.2 billion for internally displaced people in Syria and $ 5.8 billion for dollars for refugees and their hosts elsewhere in the Middle East.

The United Nations had raised more than $ 7 billion in 2020 and 2019, although UN officials will continue to push for more pledges throughout this year and will have time, as the money is spread between 2021 and 2022.

Financial institutions and donors have also accepted low-interest loans worth $ 7 billion, said Janez Lenarcic, EU commissioner for crisis management.

Some 24 million people are in need of basic assistance in Syria and the surrounding region, an increase of 4 million from last year. It is also the highest number to date since Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s crackdown on pro-democracy protesters in 2011 led to a devastating civil war.

“Things are getting worse,” UN aid chief Mark Lowcock said via a video link. “We have experienced a decade of death, destruction, displacement, disease, terror and despair, he said, adding that the United Nations was organizing its biggest response plan ever for Syria and the region in order to save thousands of lives.

FILE PHOTO: A Syrian refugee boy stands in front of a tent in an informal tent camp in the Bekaa Valley, Lebanon, March 12, 2021. REUTERS / Mohamed Azakir

COMMITMENTS

Germany has pledged 1.738 billion euros ($ 2.04 billion), its biggest amount in four years. EU support, which comes from its common budget and is separate from the Member States, remained at € 560 million.

Other pledges arrived throughout the day, including Qatari $ 100 million and nearly US $ 600 million.

Britain has pledged £ 205m ($ 281.16m), although David Miliband, chairman of the International Rescue Committee, said the amount was less than the £ 300m pledged last year, urging London to provide more.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken called on Monday evening for Syria’s borders to remain open to allow unhindered access and the free flow of aid, a call echoed by the EU’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell.

“It is vital that aid can reach those who need it… It is vitally important that humanitarian aid can be delivered to these people,” said Borrell.

The fighting has died down since an agreement a year ago ended a Russian-led bombing campaign that had displaced more than a million people. But Russian airstrikes, along with the Iranian and Syrian-backed military, continue to target rebel outposts.

The Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement urged international donors to help rebuild Syria, especially to repair essential health, water and electricity services.

The president of the International Committee of the Red Cross, Peter Maurer, has urged world powers to strike a peace deal or face many other annual donor conferences for Syria. “The ultimate responsibility rests with the parties to the conflict,” he said.

With help from Russia and Iran, Assad has recaptured much of the territory lost to rebels, and UN-backed peace efforts have stalled.

The EU has said there can be no foreign assisted reconstruction in Syria without a peace deal between the Assad government and a myriad of rebels and other opposition groups.

($ 1 = € 0.8532)

($ 1 = 0.7291 pounds)

Reporting by Robin Emmott; Additional reporting by Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva and Madeline Chambers in Berlin; Editing by Lisa Shumaker

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