Donors pledge $4.4 billion for Syria, well short of target

Brussels: International donors on Wednesday pledged $4.4 billion in aid for 2018 for civilians caught up in the Syrian civil war — well short of what the UN says is needed for humanitarian work in Syria and neighbouring countries.

The sum committed at a two-day conference in Brussels was less than half of the $9 billion the United Nations says is needed this year to help those in need inside Syria and living as refugees in neighbouring countries.

The head of the UN aid agency UNOCHA called the $4.4 billion “a good start” but Oxfam slammed the international response as “tragically inadequate”.

“My best guess is that by the end of the day we will have heard pledges for 2018 of $4.4 billion,” Mark Lowcock, the head of UNOCHA, told a news conference.

The EU’s aid commissioner Christos Stylianides said later that pledges of a further $3.4 billion for 2019 and after were made at the conference, attended by more than 80 countries, aid groups and agencies.

Britain announced 450 million pounds ($630 million, 515 million euros) for 2018 and another 300 million pounds for 2019, while Germany said it would donate more than a billion euros and the EU pledged some 560 million euros.

But several major donors including the United States have not yet confirmed their pledges, Lowcock said, because of ongoing internal budget wrangling.

– ‘Tragically inadequate’ –
Lowcock earlier told AFP he hoped to see $8 billion pledged on Wednesday, warning that funds were “desperately short” and some programmes may need to be cut if money was not found.

The figure was also far short of the $6 billion pledged at last year’s Brussels gathering, and aid group Oxfam said governments had not done enough.

“The response of the world’s richest countries to the conflict remains tragically inadequate — insufficient aid, not enough help for refugees and no meaningful peace process,” Oxfam’s Shaheen Chugtai said.

David Beasley, head of the UN’s World Food Programme, warned that without proper funding he would be forced to start cutting rations “to just barely keep people alive”.

Some 6.1 million people are now internally displaced in Syria, more than five million have fled the country and 13 million including six million children are in need of aid, according to the UN.

More than 700,000 people have been displaced since the start of this year alone as Assad has stepped up his offensive against rebel forces, intensifying the humanitarian crisis.

UN Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura warned that the military campaign would lead only to a Pyrrhic victory for the regime.

“History has shown us that what that can lead to is permanent guerilla movements, instabilty, the inability for reconstruction and above all the risk that Daesh will take advantage to return,” he said. Daesh is another name for the Islamic State group.

– Struggling peace talks –
Europe hoped to use the conference to reinvigorate the faltering UN-led peace process in Geneva, but it was not clear how effective the push was.

EU diplomatic chief Federica Mogherini urged Moscow and Tehran, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s key supporters, to help bring him to the negotiating table, saying they had a duty to help wind down the war, now in its eighth year.

“We need in particular Russia, Iran to exercise pressure on Damascus so that it accepts to sit at the table under UN auspices,” Mogherini said as she arrived for the gathering, the seventh of its kind.

Damascus has shunned the Geneva talks and Russia, Iran and Turkey launched a rival process in the Kazakh capital Astana last year.

Moscow was represented at the conference by its ambassador to the EU Vladimir Chizhov, who gave a scathing assessment of the event in his address to the other delegates.

“I am perplexed by the format of today‚Äôs meeting that does not include official representatives of the Syrian government,” he said, according to a text released by the Russian embassy.

He accused countries maintaining sanctions on Syria — which includes all 28 EU members and the United States — of “suffocating the Syrian people”.

Agence France-Presse