UN agencies need $1.5 billion for refugee and emergency aid in Syria. But no one is paying: so far, only $50 million has been pledged.
A United Nations Relief and Works Agency refugee camp on the Jordanian-Syrian border. Photo: dapd
The severe humanitarian crisis resulting from the Syrian civil war is creating a sad record: rarely before in the history of UN emergency aid programs has the discrepancy between urgently needed funding and the willingness of UN member states to pay been so great.
At the UN’s Geneva-based Coordination Center for Humanitarian Affairs (Ocha), hopes are now pinned on next Wednesday’s donor conference in Kuwait City. An Ocha spokesman told the taz newspaper that the Syrian opposition’s recent protests against the distribution of UN aid by the Assad government were a "misunderstanding.
To address the humanitarian challenges in the first half of 2013, Ocha, together with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, the World Food Program, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and six other UN humanitarian agencies involved in the Syrian conflict, had launched an appeal for $1.5 billion in aid to the 193 UN member states last September.
Two-thirds of this sum is needed to care for Syrian refugees in neighboring states, and one-third is needed for populations in need of assistance inside Syria. Yet nearly five months after the launch of this appeal, the 193 UN member states have pledged just $48.3 million. That is only 3.2 percent of the required sum. Even of that, only 20 million has actually been transferred so far.
Four million need help
The scale of the humanitarian catastrophe is even greater than anticipated in September. According to a high-level fact-finding mission of the eight UN humanitarian agencies that returned to Geneva from Damascus earlier this week, more than four million Syrians are now in need of emergency and survival assistance, including two million people displaced inside Syria and more than 650,000 Syrian refugees, mainly in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey, and increasingly in North Africa and southern Europe.
In addition, 400,000 of the total 500,000 Palestinian refugees in Syria are affected. Therefore, part of the urgently needed aid money is to go to the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees in the Middle East. According to the FAO, famine is now imminent in Syria because agricultural production of grain, fruit and vegetables has already fallen by more than 50 percent as a result of the civil war.
Irrigation facilities and other agricultural infrastructure have been destroyed. Farmers lack seeds, fertilizer, feed and fuel, and – as a result of international sanctions against Syria – veterinary medicines. For 80 percent of the 10 million Syrians living in rural areas, agriculture is their livelihood, according to the FAO.
Donor conference in Kuwait
As of Friday, Ocha did not know how many countries will participate in the donor conference in Kuwait. Unlike in the run-up to previous donor conferences, there were also no relevant announcements of aid pledges from UN member states yet.
The Syrian National Coalition, the alliance of the main opposition groups, had protested last week against a distribution of UN aid by the Assad government. It was "absurd to entrust the Assad regime, which is bombing hospitals, with the organization of emergency aid," said an opposition statement released in Istanbul.
Ocha spokesman Jens Laerke dismissed this protest to the taz as a "misunderstanding by the opposition." "In no case" would aid supplies or funds go to the government in Damascus, but would be "distributed to the population exclusively through the humanitarian UN organizations involved or the Syrian Arab Crescent Organization," the Ocha spokesman stressed. He added that the government and its armed forces, "just like all other armed parties to the conflict, are bound by international humanitarian law not to obstruct the distribution of aid."