KUWAIT CITY — Donors meeting in Kuwait have pledged more than US$2.4 billion in humanitarian aid for victims of the Syrian war, less than half the $6.5 billion sought by the United Nations.
The meeting came on Wednesday just a week before the so-called 'Geneva II' peace conference aimed at finding a political solution to the 34-month conflict that has claimed more than 130,000 lives and displaced millions of people.
"More than $2.4 billion has been pledged at the conference," UN secretary General Ban Ki-moon said at the conclusion of the meeting, attended by delegates from nearly 70 nations and 24 international organisations.
But the UN was appealing for $6.5 billion in what it said was the largest ever in its history for a single humanitarian emergency.
It is seeking $2.3 billion to support 9.3 million people inside Syria and $4.2 billion for refugees, expected to nearly double to 4.1 million in number by year's end.
Officials, human rights and aid groups have expressed dismay at the worsening situation.
Ban himself said "half of the total population of Syrian people, nearly 9.3 million individuals, urgently need humanitarian aid," pointing out that more than three million people have fled the country.
"I am especially concerned about reports of starvation" in Syria, he said.
EU Aid Commissioner Kristalina Georgieva said "we see the humanitarian situation going from bad to worse; we have seen no improvement."
And with fighting intense as ever and the prospects of a negotiated solution dim, rights and aid groups say urgent funds are needed.
On Tuesday, Amnesty International said "the continuing violence in Syria has sparked one of the biggest humanitarian crises in recent history.
"The world's response to the Syria crisis so far has been woefully inadequate," Amnesty said.
UN Emergency Relief Coordinator Valerie Amos said Wednesday that around 245,000 Syrians are living in towns and cities under siege and facing extreme hardships, including food shortages.
"I am deeply troubled by the persistent reports of people running out of food in those besieged communities, where some 245,000 people live," Amos said.
According to aid agencies, 10.5 million Syrians are food insecure, more than a million children under five suffer from acute or severe malnutrition, about half the population has no access to adequate water sources or sanitation and 8.6 million have insufficient access to healthcare.
Kuwait leads donors with pledge of $500 million
Host country Kuwait led pledges, with the emir, Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmed al-Sabah, promising $500 million at the opening of the one-day conference.
US Secretary of State John Kerry announced a supplementary aid package of $380 million, bringing the total US contribution to $1.7 billion.
Oil-rich Saudi Arabia said it will give $60 million in supplementary aid, as did neighbouring energy-rich Qatar. Both are strong backers of the rebellion against President Bashar al-Assad.
And the United Arab Emirates promised a similar amount.
Britain pledged 100 million pounds ($164 million), Japan $120 million, Norway $75 million, Italy $51 million, Denmark 26.8 million euros ($36.5 million)and Germany $41 million.
Other countries pledged smaller amounts.
On Tuesday, the European Union offered an extra 165 million euros ($225 million), according to Georgieva, raising its total contributions to 2.0 billion euros ($2.74 billion).
Charity organisations meeting in Kuwait on the eve of the conference also pledged $400 million of aid.
Lebanon is currently home to the largest number of refugees with 905,000, followed by Jordan with 575,000, Turkey with 562,000, Iraq with 216,000 and Egypt with 145,000.
By the end of 2014, these numbers are estimated to rise to 1.65 million in Lebanon, 800,000 in Jordan, 1.0 million in Turkey, 400,000 in Iraq and 250,000 in Egypt. AFP