Western, Arab states pledge $1.4 billion to UN aid efforts in Syria

Ireland pledges €12 million in Government funding to Syrian humanitarian aid effort

Civilians inspect a site hit by what activists said was an airstrike by forces loyal to Syria’s president Bashar al-Assad in Arbeen, in the eastern Damascus suburb of Ghouta. Photograph: Ammar Al-Erbeeni/Reuters

Civilians inspect a site hit by what activists said was an airstrike by forces loyal to Syria’s president Bashar al-Assad in Arbeen, in the eastern Damascus suburb of Ghouta. Photograph: Ammar Al-Erbeeni/Reuters

Wed, Jan 15, 2014, 19:15

Western and Gulf Arab nations pledged just over $1.4 billion (€1 billion) today for United Nations aid efforts in Syria, where an almost three-year-old civil war has left millions of people hungry, ailing or displaced.

The pledge arose from an appeal for $6.5 billion (€4.8 billion) launched last month which is the largest in UN history.

As part of the initiative, Ireland has pledged a further €12 million in Government funding for the crisis.

Minister for Trade and Development Joe Costello made the announcement at a major humanitarian pledging conference for Syria in Kuwait today, where he announced that Ireland will provide additional funding for life-saving emergency supplies to assist thousands of families in Syria.

Sophie Magennis from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees office described the announcement as “another serious expression of solidarity with the Syrian people”.

She said that the funding was essential if humanitarian agencies were to respond to a serious rise in the number of refugees by the end of 2014. “The current forecast is that the number of refugees will rise from 2.3 million to 4.1 million by the end of 2014. These refugees need food, protection and shelter from the harsh winter, along with health services and education for their children. This funding will go a long way in supporting that work.”

Echoing comments by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees that support must go beyond financial assistance, she also welcomed Ireland’s commitment to resettling Syrian refugees here. “Ireland is one of only 18 countries that has pledged resettlement places to Syrians. In addition to the refugees taken in from Syria in 2013, today’s pledge is another serious expression of solidarity with the Syrian people”.

The UN estimates that the conflict has reversed development gains in Syria by 35 years, with half its people now living in poverty. But only 70 per cent of $1.5 billion pledged at a similar meeting last year has reached UN coffers, hinting at donor fatigue with no end to the bloodshed on the horizon. UN humanitarian chief Valerie Amos said all sides in the conflict had shown “total disregard for their responsibilities under international humanitarian and human rights law.”

She decried the increasing tactic of siege warfare while UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said polio had returned and he was “especially concerned” about reports of starvation. “Children, women, men are trapped, hungry, ill, losing hope,” Amos told an international donor conference in Kuwait intended to help the United Nations reach its $6.5 billion target for the crisis in 2014.

Kuwait’s ruling emir, Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmed al-Sabah, promised $500 million in fresh assistance, while the United States announced a contribution of $380 million. Qatar and Saudi Arabia pledged $60 million each. The European Union pledged $225 million and Britain $165 million.

The $1.5 billion promised via the United Nations at a similar meeting last year in Kuwait was used in Syria and surrounding countries to provide food rations, medicine, drinking water and shelters. The largest donations at that conference came from Gulf Arab governments, who have backed Syrian rebels trying to oust president Bashar al-Assad. “Even under the best circumstances, the fighting has set back Syria years, even decades,” said Mr Ban, who is chairing the Kuwait conference. “I am especially concerned that the sides are using violence against women and girls to denigrate and dehumanise their opponents. I call for an immediate end to these abuses, which harm individuals and undermine Syria’s future.”

Mr Ban has previously expressed regret that not all the promised donations have been received from the last meeting, with 20-30 per cent still lacking.

Mr Ban told the gathering today he hoped peace talks due to start in Switzerland on January 22nd would bring the Syrian government and opposition to the negotiating table - although Assad’s adversaries are deeply split over whether to attend. “I hope this will launch a political process to establish a transitional governing body with a full executive powers, and most importantly, end the violence,” he said.

Reuters