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Syria: EU pledges €560m as UN warns of 'enormous' needs

June 15, 2023

United Nations agencies and aid organizations have called for greater financial support to combat the humanitarian crisis in war-torn Syria, which has been exacerbated by a major earthquake earlier this year.

A woman carries a jug of water after refilling it at a neighbourhood water tank in Syria's northeastern city of Hasakeh on June 11, 2023.
UN agencies and aid organizations have called for greater financial support to combat the humanitarian crisis in Syria.Image: Delil Souleiman/AFP via Getty Images

The European Union has pledged a further half a billion euros in aid for Syria amid calls from the United Nations and aid organizations for the international community to step up their response to the humanitarian crisis in the region.

UN agencies have described the needs of the Syrian people as "enormous" and warned that only a tenth of necessary financing has thus far been secured for projects aimed at helping people caught up in the civil war which has been raging since 2011, a situation exacerbated by the deadly earthquakes which struck the region earlier this year.

"We need much greater financial support from the international community," said a joint statement by Martin Griffiths, Filippo Grandi and Achim Steiner, who jointly steer the U.N.-led response to the crisis in Syria.

"More help for the Syrian people and those hosting them is imperative," they said. "The needs are enormous."

'Humanitarian funding not keeping pace'

Hosting an international donor conference in Brussels for the seventh consecutive year, the EU itself pledged €560m ($600m) of aid to Syria, in addition to the €950m it pledged in a separate fundraiser for earthquake victims in March.

The previous two conferences raised total pledges of $6.7bn last year and $6.4bn year before, with the EU contributing about one billion dollars at each.

But officials have warned that it's not enough, with the UN World Food Program (WFP) saying it was already cutting its aid in Syria to around 2.5 million people out of 5.5 million because there was not enough money available.

"Humanitarian funding for Syria is not keeping pace with rapidly increasing needs," said Janez Lenarcic, the conference host and the EU's top official for humanitarian aid and crisis management.

"Never before since the outbreak of the civil war have so many people in Syria been uncertain about whether they would have enough to eat tomorrow," said a spokesperson for German humanitarian organization Diakonie Katastrophenhilfe, run by Germany's protestant churches, adding that over ten million people are at risk of food insecurity.

Children are seen collecting water at the al-Hol refugee camp in the northeastern province of Hasakah, Syria on May 28, 2023
"Humanitarian funding for Syria is not keeping pace with rapidly increasing needs," says EU officialImage: Xinhua/picture alliance

Guteres: 'We have no time to spare'

According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), more than 14 million Syrians have fled their homes since the outbreak of war in 2011, and about 6.8 million remain displaced in their own country, where almost the entire population lives below the poverty line.

Approximately 5.5m Syrians have sought refuge in neighboring Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq, as well as Egypt.

"My appeal is simple: Help us help the Syrian people. We are asking for $11.1 billion, our largest appeal worldwide," U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guteres said. "We have no time to spare."

"Our cash assistance will run out for two and a half million Syrians next month alone," Guteres said, calling it "priority number one."

Since 2011, more than 500,000 people have been killed in Syria after President Bashar al-Assad's brutal crackdown on peaceful protesters plunged the country into a complex war which has drawn in foreign powers and jihadists – with no end in sight.

"Unfortunately, over the last year there has been little progress, very little progress, towards a resolution of the Syria conflict," EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said as he announced the bloc's pledge in Brussels, emphasizing that the aid was intended for the Syrian people, not the Damascus government led by Assad.

mf/jcg (Reuters, AFP, dpa)