EXTRA funds for humanitarian aid to Syria, pledged at a recent donors’ conference in Brussels, “are urgently needed by millions of Syrians at home and dispersed across the region”, according to a joint statement from 37 aid agencies which says that “they are needed now more than ever.” The group includes CAFOD, CARE International, Christian Aid, the Jesuit Refugee Service, the Mennonite Central Committee, and World Vision.
The Brussels conference, hosted by the EU and the UN, raised £4.6 billion: £3.2 billion for this year, and £1.4 billion for 2021 and beyond. The target for pledges had been set at more than £7 billion.
The 37 aid agencies praised the countries that had maintained the same level of funding as last year; a few states even increased the amount pledged. But, the joint statement continued, “it is extremely disappointing to see two major donors, the UK and the US, turn their back on the plight of Syrians. This will have a devastating effect on their lives.”
The UK pledged at least £205 million, down from £300 million last year, reflecting its expressed commitment to a temporary reduction in overseas aid. The president of the International Rescue Committee aid group, David Milliband, told the TV news network Euronews that “coming just weeks after the tenth anniversary of the [Syrian] conflict, this decision is deeply concerning, especially given the high impact that British aid has had over the last 10 years”.
The UN secretary-general, António Guterres, appealed to those attending the Brussels conference to increase financial support and to show a greater to commitment to achieving peace in Syria. After a decade of conflict, he said, “many Syrians have lost confidence that the international community can help them forge an agreed path out of this conflict. The war in Syria is not only Syria’s war. Ending it, and the tremendous suffering it continues to cause, is our collective responsibility.”
Mr Guterres also highlighted the accumulative effect of ten years of devastation: “Syria’s economy has been ravaged, and now the impact of Covid-19 has made things worse. Almost half of all families have lost their source of income. Nine in ten Syrians are living in poverty.”
This issue was raised in the joint statement from the group of humanitarian agencies. They said that “Syrians are facing record food-insecurity levels and declining socio-economic conditions. Needs have increased dramatically over the last year. Over 13 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance inside Syria.”
Wars usually come to an end when there is a clear victor, or when the parties to the conflict are ground down to the point where they agree to head for the negotiating table. In Syria, neither outcome seems likely in the foreseeable future: numerous foreign powers have become involved in the fighting and claim a stake in its outcome.
The UN special envoy for Syria, Geir Pedersen, alluded to these challenges when he spoke at the Brussels conference. While battle lines were relatively quiet at present, “peace remains elusive”, he said. Tensions remain high, and “frequent eruptions of violence continue to occur and hospitals and civilians are still getting hit. When five foreign armies are operating in proximity to one another, flames can ignite anew at any time.”
The Vatican Secretary for Relations with States within the Holy See, Archbishop Paul Gallagher, spoke of “an urgent need to find timely, realisable solutions to the dramatic situation” in Syria. He suggested that the focus should be on practical projects that would help in the eventual rebuilding of the country.
He urged the international community to “begin to direct significant channels of services to building hospitals, schools, houses, factories, and to restart the economy. Solutions exist, but peace will not come to Syria without reconstruction and without jump-starting the economy. We must find a way forward.”