Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, UAE pledge $900 mln for Syrians at donors conference


Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and the United Arab Emirates pledged Wednesday $900 million to help fund humanitarian efforts for Syrians affected by nearly two years of conflict.

The Gulf nations’ promises at a donors’ conference hosted by Kuwait – in addition to earlier relief fund increases by the U.S. and European Union - pushed close to the U.N.’s appeal for at least $1.5 billion in immediate aid. But the funds are only expected to cover the coming months, highlighting the massive burden to cope with needs from Syria’s civil war and its spillover in the region.

The pledges also will likely face close scrutiny on how quickly the money will reach over-stretched aid groups directed by the U.N. and other agencies. Officials in Egypt and elsewhere have complained that many generous international offers for help after the Arab Spring upheavals have not yet materialized.

The United Nations warned on Monday that without more money it would not be able to help millions of Syrians and appealed for donations at the aid conference to meet its $1.5 billion target.

Four million Syrians inside the country need food, shelter and other aid and more than 700,000 more are estimated to have fled to countries nearby.

Scale of crisis escalates

King Abdullah of Jordan told the gathering that Syrians had taken refuge in his country in their hundreds of thousands but Amman’s ability to help was at its limits. “We have reached the end of the line, we have exhausted our resources,” he said.

U.N. humanitarian chief Valerie Amos said that Syrian agriculture was in crisis, hospitals and ambulances had been damaged and even painkillers were unavailable.

Harsh winter weather had made matters worse, and people lack winter clothes, blankets and fuel, with women and children particularly at risk, she said, adding:

“We are watching a human tragedy unfold before our eyes.”

The conference was seeking pledges of $1 billion of aid for Syria’s neighbors hosting refugees and another $500 million to fund humanitarian work for 4 million Syrians afflicted by the civil war inside the country.

The aid would fund operations for the first half of this year, but the United Nations has so far received pledges covering just 18 percent of the target, unveiled last month as the scale of Syria’s humanitarian crisis escalated sharply.

Even if pledges are made, aid groups have found in the past that converting promises into hard cash can take time.

Nevertheless, there was early positive news for the gathering when the oil-rich states of Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and the UAE each pledged $300 million in aid.

Kuwait’s emir, Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah, told the meeting “horrifying reports” of violence had raised questions about Syria’s future and aid efforts had to be redoubled.

Sexual violence, detentions

But Ban said much more remained to be done. “The situation in Syria is catastrophic and getting worse every day,” he said.

“Every day Syrians face unrelenting horrors,” he said, including sexual violence and detentions.

Iran, a close ally of Assad, said the blame for the humanitarian crisis lay with opposition fighters who had come to Syria from abroad.

Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi said the government and its Syrian opponents should “sit and talk and form a transitional government.”

“Those who are causing these calamities are mercenaries who have come to Syria from outside the country,” he said.