BRUSSELS (AP) – The European Union and dozens of donor countries pledged a total of $ 7.7 billion on Tuesday to address the humanitarian crisis in Syria and the neighboring countries hosting millions of Syrian refugees, as the coronavirus pandemic and economic crises are nearing woes a decade of civil war.
EU Crisis Management Commissioner Janez Lenarcic announced the total at the end of a day-long online pledge conference hosted by the EU and the United Nations.
“We have today expressed our solidarity with the Syrian people, not only with words, but with concrete commitments that will save millions of people,” said Lenarcic.
The war in Syria killed more than 400,000 people and led to a refugee flight that destabilized neighboring countries and hit Europe. About 11 million people need humanitarian aid and about 9 million don’t have enough to eat. More than half of the population has no job.
The international poverty alleviation organization Oxfam said that the amount promised did not meet what is needed.
“Donor governments’ commitments are simply not enough to tackle the Syrian crisis with 1 million people at risk of starvation within the country, and COVID-19 and an economic downturn that is hard hit by refugees and host communities in neighboring countries,” said Marta Lorenzo, Oxfam’s regional director for the Middle East and North Africa.
UN resident coordinator and humanitarian coordinator for Syria Imran Riza, speaking from Qamishli in Northern Syria, underlined the problems.
“We are on the eve of all these multiple crises,” said Riza. “You see children who are now clearly malnourished. You see malnutrition we have never seen in the past nine years and this is getting worse if you don’t act now. ‘
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas pledged $ 1.584 billion ($ 1.8 billion) on behalf of Germany, as he also warned that the global pandemic was aggravating the grim realities of life in war-torn Syria.
“Access to humanitarian aid will be further restricted,” he said during the virtual donor conference. “And health facilities that are in ruins cannot meet the enormous needs. Today we can show that the world cares that the people of Syria are not forgotten. ‘
British Minister for International Development, Anne-Marie Trevelyan, pledged £ 300 million to support education, food and the fight against the corona virus, among others.
“We cannot and will not ignore the magnitude of the coronavirus threat in Syria, which has been plagued by nearly a decade of conflict,” said Trevelyan.
EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell has announced that the EU institutions will donate $ 2.3 billion ($ 2.6 billion) this year and next.
Perhaps wary of the coronavirus-ravaged national treasury, the EU and the UN – co-chairmen of the conference – underlined that they had not set a fixed pledge target. UN Under-Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs Mark Lowcock said about $ 10 billion is needed and raising $ 5.5 billion “would not be a bad outcome.”
Lenarcic said at the end of the conference that $ 5.5 billion of Tuesday’s pledged money will be available this year and $ 2.2 billion for next year and beyond.
The EU has reported that donors contributed € 8.9 billion ($ 10 billion) in grants to Turkey, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria in 2019. The United Nations currently needs about $ 3.8 billion for its Syria-related work. Speakers at Tuesday’s fundraising meeting have repeatedly expressed support for Syria’s neighboring countries housing refugees.
Lebanese Prime Minister Hassan Diab said that the cost to his country of hosting more than 1 million Syrian refugees since the start of the conflict in March 2011 has exceeded $ 40 billion and warned that the situation is worsening due to an economic crisis.
Diab called on the UN, the EU and friendly nations to “protect Lebanon from the negative effects” of sanctions imposed by the Trump administration on Syria in mid-June.
Lowcock acknowledged that it was difficult to hold the donors’ conference at a time when economies around the world were affected by the corona virus.
“We recognize that the conditions are a bit unusual,” he said. “It is a difficult time in any country to find the resources needed to alleviate the suffering of the Syrian people, but it is essential that we continue to do that work.”
Oxfam’s Lorenzo said, “It is shocking that the international community has not recognized the urgency of the situation, despite clear calls from Syrian civil society.”
Corder reported from The Hague, Netherlands. AP writers Sarah El Deeb and Bassem Mroue in Beirut contributed.
Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or distributed without permission.