The United Nations announced yesterday that half the population of Syria, a total of 9.3 million of whom nearly 50 percent are children, need urgent humanitarian aid. With Syria’s public health system in crisis, and its infrastructure in tatters, the UN appealed for international donations of $6.5 billion for the year ahead – the largest figure it has ever pinned on a single emergency.
Addressing the second International Humanitarian Pledging Conference on Syria in Kuwait City, UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon said that the numbers of Syrians needing help have more than doubled in the past year. This figure does not take into account the estimated three million people who have already fled the country. Humanitarian aid meant “the difference between life and death, hope and despair,” he said.
Appealing for “strong international support,” he said attacks on homes and ordinary civilians were unrelenting, and violence against girls and women was continuing unabated. Fighting was reversing any form of development in the country and severely damaging stability. In effect, he said, the fighting has set Syria back by decades.
Ki-moon said he was horrified by “the violence and brutality” of the civil war and was particularly concerned that starvation was becoming increasingly widespread.
Not only has the Syrian conflict produced “the worst use of weapons of mass destruction in the 21st century,” but the government-backed army continues to attack homes, hospitals and health care facilities, as well as schools, he said. An alarming 2 million or more children were not attending school, and two of the country’s five hospitals were not able to function. In about 50 percent of the country there were no available doctors as they have had no option but to flee the country. To make it even worse, tragically, the “nightmare” polio virus has re-emerged, even though it had previously been eradicated from that part of the world.
Those unwilling or unable to escape the horror stay on in Syria struggling to survive. In some areas there is only one hour of electricity in a day, and it’s impossible to know whether the water is safe to drink.
Looking beyond the horrifying figures he had presented, Ki-moon told delegates, “The families behind the statistics are freezing through one of the harshest winters in decades.”
After visiting Syrian refugees in Jordan, Turkey, Iraq and the Kurdistan Governorate earlier this week, he marveled at their resilience but said he found their suffering heartbreaking.
“They need us to prove that the world stands with them now.”
Pledges to the UN
The United Nations has confirmed that more than $2.4 billion of the $6.5 budget required to help 9.3 million Syrians living in desperate circumstances during the next 12 months was pledged at this week’s Kuwait City conference. The first donation of $500 million came from the host city. The largest pledge of $380 million came from the United States. Other substantial donations were pledged by the United Kingdom, Saudi Arabia and Qatar.
In June 2013, little more than two years after the start of Syria’s civil war, the UN appealed to the world for $5 billion to help the people of that country. The US reportedly delivered the largest donation, a figure of $1,142 million. The European commission donated $586 million, and the United Kingdom $380 million. In 2013, Kuwait gave the UN $325 million towards Syrian aid.
According to the Financial Tracking Service that the UN manages, more than $500 million of the money pledged for Syria last year has not been forthcoming. While it is a well-known fact that a percentage of pledges never materialize, a United Nations spokesman quoted by the BBC said most of the shortfall could be traced to Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. This was probably due to inexperience working through the United Nations system, as they are known to be generous donors in their own region, he said.
The Humanitarian Effort in Syria
As world powers prepare to make their way to Geneva, Switzerland for another United Nations-sponsored conference on the devastating Syrian crisis next week, Ban Ki-moon commended the courageous UN humanitarian agencies, NGO partners and their relief workers inside Syria. He said they were operating in extremely dangerous and very violent conditions, and their bravery deserved full support and protection.
He singled out the Red Pillar in Syria – made up of various “Red” organizations, including the Syrian Arab Red Crescent and the Red Cross – as well as various Kuwaiti organizations and aid groups. Without them, many besieged people would be completely isolated and more vulnerable than they already were.
He also paid tribute to the many people who have lost their lives in the violence, including 14 United Nations personnel and 32 people working for the Syrian Arab Red Crescent.
The Refugee Crisis and Its Economic Impact
In addition to the dire needs of desperate Syrians within their country, there is a growing refugee crisis that is causing tensions to rise and creating terrible hardship throughout that part of the Middle East. This, says Ki-moon is linked directly to the increasing conflict and instability in both Lebanon and Iraq, and it is seriously undermining economic development in the region. Additionally, there is an urgent need for the UN to support countries that are bearing the brunt of mostly penniless refugees swarming over their borders.
According to a joint UN-World Bank study, GDP growth in Lebanon alone has been so severely cut, because of the conflict, that losses are already estimated at around S7.5 billion.
Countries hosting refugees from Syria are all facing huge expenses, including Iraq and Turkey. Jordan, alone, is said to have incurred costs of more than $1.5 billion from its refugee effort.
It was not right to expect any country to face hardships or suffer adversely just because they were willing to help 9.3 to 10 million desperate Syrians in need, as well as the millions of others in exile in neighboring countries, he said. Instead it was vitally important that the world share the burden. Acknowledging that Syria’s humanitarian needs were massive, he said the $6.5 billion the United Nations was asking for was just an estimate. “I count on you to show the Syrian people that the world is here to help.”
By Penny Swift