Donors pledge $3.8bn for Syria crisis at 'tipping point'

Gulf states lead pledges for Syria, with new aid commitments of more than $600m from Kuwait, the UAE and Saudi Arabia

International donors yesterday pledged $3.8bn for desperate Syrians at a UN conference hosted by the Gulf state of Kuwait.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees, António Guterres, warned the gathering of 50 states that the Syrian war had reached a dangerous tipping point with refugees increasingly desperate. The Syrian crisis is now in its fifth year.

“It is clear that the world's response to the crisis in Syria cannot be business as usual. The situation is becoming unsustainable,” said Guterres. “Humanitarian assistance budgets are vastly insufficient to meet even the most basic needs, and development actors must step forward to support the longer-term efforts.”

Gulf states led the pledges, with new aid commitments of $500m from Kuwait, $100m from the UAE and $60m from Saudi Arabia. The EU pledged more than $1bn and the US promised $507m for the UN’s regional refugee and resilience plan.

Still, the commitments made yesterday are less than half of the $8.4bn goal the UN estimates is needed this year.

The donor pledges come amid an appalling downward spiral in conditions for those inside and outside the conflict-stricken country. Some 12.2 million people, including 5.6 million children, now need humanitarian assistance, according to the UN. Syria’s neighbours – notably Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, Egypt and Turkey – host “unprecedented” numbers of Syrian refugees, according to the UN. Almost 4 million people have fled Syria and the world body estimates the conflict will have created 4.3 million refugees by December.

“The hopes of Syrian refugees to return home anytime soon are waning as their country’s crisis worsens. It is vital that we massively increase our support to them – not only so they can survive, but live with dignity,” said Guterres. “This also means we must not abandon the host countries to bear the brunt of this crisis alone.”

The crisis has also taken a huge toll on the country’s development. Over the past four years, Syria has plummeted from a middle-income country to one where four out of five people are in poverty, said the UN.

Across Syria, more than 60 per cent of hospitals are no longer functional and nearly half of Syria's doctors have fled, according to Save the Children. The city of Aleppo has just 36 doctors, out of the 2,500 it needs, according to the charity.

“While we cannot bring peace, this funding will help humanitarian organizations deliver life-saving food, water, shelter, health services and other relief to millions of people in urgent need,” said Valerie Amos, UN under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs.

UN secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon, added he had only “shame, anger and frustration at the international community’s impotence to stop the war”.

The Kuwait conference is the third consecutive such pledging round hosted by the Gulf state. In January 2014, the second pledging conference raised $2.4bn, including a $500m pledge from the hosts; while the first meet in 2013 raised $1.5bn.  

Photo credit: UNHCR