Four out of five Syrians live in poverty, UN chief says

Baraa al Halabi, AFP file picture | A Syrian woman cooks food on a fire in the street in the eastern rebel held Tal Zarzour neighbourhood of the northern Syrian city of Aleppo on November 23, 2014

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on Tuesday told an international donors’ conference for Syria that four out of five Syrians now live in poverty, describing the situation as "the worst humanitarian crisis of our time".


Syria’s civil war, now in its fifth year, has killed at least 220,000 people and displaced 11 million, according to figures compiled by the United Nations. Of those who have been displaced, nearly four million have been forced to flee to nearby countries such as Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan, Iraq and Egypt, stretching resources there to the limit.

"Four out of five Syrians live in poverty, misery and deprivation. The country has lost nearly four decades of human development," Ban told the third annual conference, which was hosted in Kuwait this year.

“They are not asking for sympathy, they are asking for help,” Ban said in his speech.

He also offered some stinging remarks, saying that he had “only shame and deep anger and frustration at the international community’s impotence to stop the war”.

The UN had requested $8.4 billion (€7.7 billion) in pledges this year – its largest appeal yet for the war-ravaged country.

As the crisis in Syria continues unabated, the UN has said $2.9 billion is needed in 2015 for Syrian people inside the country, and $5.5 billion for those who have fled to the five surrounding countries.

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said the Syrian crisis has created “the largest displacement crisis in the world” and that 12.2 million people – just under half of them children – are in “dire need of aid”.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres said the situation for Syrians is “at a tipping point” and “unsustainable”.

Guterres said the latest UN appeal is different from previous ones because it recognises both the immediate and the longer-term imperatives of responding to the crisis.

Pledges falling short

But despite the UN making its largest humanitarian appeal in history, international donors attending the day-long conference pledged only $3.8 billion, less than half of the requested amount.

“Many countries are giving the same amount, or even less than they have in the past,” Samantha Power, the US ambassador to the UN, told the conference.

“Years from now, when Syrians and the world look back on the country’s horrific crisis, they will remember which countries stepped up to help people in dire need, and which countries did little or nothing at all,” she said.

More than a quarter of the total came from two countries: Kuwait, which pledged $500 billion dollars, and the United States, which promised the largest single commitment of $507 billion.

The European Commission and EU member states pledged close to $1.2 billion total, double the overall EU pledge at the 2014 conference.

Gulf envoys addressing the conference said the United Arab Emirates pledged $100 million. Saudi Arabia pledged $60 million, while Norway said it would pay $93 million.

Kuwaiti state media said local charities and aid organisations pledged another $506 million just before the conference started.

At last year’s donors’ conference, about $2.4 billion were pledged, though the UN had called for $6.5 billion in pledges. In 2013, some $1.5 billion were pledged, less than half of the UN’s appeal for $4.4 billion.

In November, the UN humanitarian office’s Financial Tracking Service said that nearly a quarter of last year’s pledges, or $585 million, had not been fulfilled.

But in his conference speech on Tuesday, Ban said that more of last year’s pledges have since come through, or up to about 90 percent of what was pledged.

Some 78 countries and 40 international aid organisations were present at this year’s conference.

(FRANCE 24 with AP, AFP)

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