UN agencies say ‘enormous’ needs ahead as EU hosts meeting to collect money for Syria

BRUSSELS (Reuters): The European Union hosts an international conference on Thursday to collect money for Syria where an earthquake earlier this year aggravated the already dire plight of people who have been caught in war since 2011.

Three United Nations agencies have said the needs are “enormous” and warned that only a tenth of necessary financing has so far been secured for 2023 projects to help people inside Syria and the refugees in the region.

“We need much greater financial support from the international community,” said a joint statement by Martin Griffiths, Filippo Grandi and Achim Steiner, who jointly steer the UN-led response to the crisis in Syria.

“More help for the Syrian people and those hosting them is imperative. The needs are enormous,” they said.

According to the UN refugee agency UNHCR, more than 14 million Syrians have fled their homes since 2011, and about 6.8 million remain displaced in their own country, where almost the entire population lives below the poverty line.

About 5.5 million Syrian refugees live in neighboring Turkiye, Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq as well as Egypt.

The UN chiefs said they hoped for a similar level of pledges to the $6.7 billion offered for Syria and its neighbors at a similar conference last year.

They warned that UN plans for $5.4 billion aid inside the country, as well as $5.8 billion for Syrians in the wider region this year, were critically underfunded.

“Humanitarian funding for Syria is not keeping pace with rapidly increasing needs,” said Janez Lenarcic, the conference host and the EU’s top official for humanitarian aid and crisis management.

What started as peaceful protests against President Bashar al Assad’s rule in Syria in 2011 spiralled into a multi-sided conflict sucking in Russia, Iran, Turkiye and other countries. The war has killed more than 350,000 people.

Russia eventually tipped the balance in favor of Assad who last month received a warm welcome at a summit of Arab states that ended years of his isolation by regional peers.

But the West refuses to rehabilitate Assad and a large swathe of Syria remains under the control of Turkish-backed rebels and radical Islamist groups as well as a US backed Kurdish militia.

Lenarcic also called for extended humanitarian access from Turkiye to the northwestern part of Syria.