US leads pledges with $507 million at Syria donor conference

Staff Writer
Columbus CEO

KUWAIT CITY (AP) — The United States pledged $507 million in humanitarian aid at an international donors' conference for Syria on Tuesday as the United Nations issued an appeal for $8.4 billion in commitments this year — the organizations largest appeal yet for the war-ravaged country.

Earlier, Kuwait, which is hosting the third annual conference, pledged $500 million. In his opening remarks, Emir Sheikh Sabah Al Ahmad Al Sabah said the Syrian conflict is the "biggest humanitarian crisis in recent history."

The civil war, now in its fifth year, has killed at least 220,000 people and displaced 11 million, according to U.N. figures. Of the displaced, nearly 4 million have been forced to flee to nearby countries such as Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan, Iraq and Egypt, stretching resources there to the limit.

"The Syrian people's plight has spilled over to hosting countries, exhausting their resources and it is our role to support the host countries," Al Sabah said.

As the crisis in Syria continues unabated, the U.N. says $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 U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs says the Syrian crisis has created the "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 U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres said the situation for people is "at a tipping point" and "unsustainable."

Guterres said this current U.N. appeal is different from previous ones because it recognizes both the immediate and the longer-term imperatives of responding to the crisis.

Ahead of this year's gathering, the German government said it will pledge $277 million in new aid. Kuwaiti state media say local charities and aid organizations pledged another $506 million just before the conference started.

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. The U.S. delegation at the conference is led by Samantha Power, Washington's ambassador to the U.N.

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

The U.N. humanitarian office's Financial Tracking Service said in November that nearly a quarter of last year's pledges, or $585 million, had not been fulfilled.

In his speech at the Kuwait conference Tuesday, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon said that more of last year's pledges have since come through, up to about 90 percent of what was pledged. He said the Syrians need more than just sympathy, and that they need commitments.

Some 78 countries and 40 international aid organizations are present at this year's conference. Kuwait, consistently one of the largest donors at the conference, similarly pledged $500 million last year and $300 million the year before.