Brussels (AP) — Donor nations from across the globe were scrambling Thursday to find billions of dollars to extend their aid commitment to millions of Syrians who have been battered by hunger, poverty, civil war and a massive earthquake.
Amid pressing needs across the globe from Ukraine to Sudan, the annual donor conference hosted by the European Union in Brussels has even more political overtones as Syrian President Bashar Assad is slowly carving his way back from being an international pariah to the regional mainstream. Finding hard cash, though, remains key.
“My appeal is simple: Help us help the Syrian people. We are asking for $11.1 billion, our largest appeal worldwide,” U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said. “We have no time to spare.”
Funding from the conference will help provide aid to Syrians in the war-torn country and to some 5.7 million Syrian refugees living in neighboring countries, particularly Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan.
But for nations hit by economic difficulties, a surge in inflation that has hurt the poor in even the wealthiest nations and the seemingly hopeless situation that drags on in Syria’s 13-year conflict, money is increasingly hard to come by.
Guterres said that because of the funding crisis, there would need to be drastic aid cuts for the 5.5 million people in Syria who have been receiving food assistance.
“Our cash assistance will run out for two and a half million Syrians next month alone,” Guterres said, calling it “priority number one.”
The crisis is also hitting the neighboring nations which host some 5.7 million refugees and are facing economic crises of their own. Some say their support for refugees might be changing in the light of any funding squeeze.
Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi of Jordan, which hosts about 1.3 million Syrians, said that “handling the burden of refugees is a partnership between donor states and host states. If the donor states cannot play its role, it cannot expect the host states to do so as well.”
The pledging conference comes at a politically precarious time. Assad recently received a major political lifeline with the return of Syria to the Arab League. Several countries neighboring Syria, led by Saudi Arabia have been holding talks with it to resolve the war-torn country’s ongoing security and economic crisis, hoping that it would lead to mass refugee returns.
However, Josep Borrell, foreign policy chief of the 27-nation EU, insisted that the bloc would not change its policies toward Assad, including maintaining sanctions against his regime. “We are not on the same line as the Arab League. That’s clear,” Borrell said. He added, however, that he would be interested in what the league could achieve with its new position.
The conference comes after a deadly 7.8 magnitude earthquake rocked large swaths of Syria in February, further compounding its misery. The World Bank estimated over $5 billion in damage s as the quake destroyed homes and hospitals and further crippled Syria’s poor power and water infrastructure.
At last year’s conference in Brussels, donors pledged $6.7 billion, falling billions short of the U.N.’s $10.5 billion appeal, split almost evenly to assist Syrians inside the country and refugees.
A new pledging total from the 57 nations and 30 international organizations participating in the conference is expected late Thursday or Friday