Senior representatives from scores of countries and international organizations have gathered in a fresh effort to drum up aid for Syria amid growing donor fatigue as the conflict enters its ninth year.
UN agencies, non-governmental organizations, and think tanks are warning that the conflict, which has killed more than 400,000 people and sparked a refugee exodus that destabilized Syria’s neighbors and also hit Europe, is far from over.
Around 80 percent of people inside the country live in extreme poverty, and refugees are reluctant to return, fearing violence, conscription or prison. Almost six million people have fled Syria, many living in precarious conditions in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey.
“Syria remains one of the great crises of our time,” UN humanitarian chief Mark Lowcock says as the pledging conference opened in Brussels. He expressed deep concern about the threat of open conflict in Syria’s northern Idlib province, where more than 90 people were killed last month, nearly half of them children.
“A large-scale military assault on Idlib would create the worst humanitarian catastrophe the world has seen in the 21st Century,” Lowcock says.
The UN says $3.3 billion is needed to help meet Syria’s own aid needs this year, plus a further $5.5 billion to support neighboring countries where most Syrians are seeking refuge. About 11.7 million Syrians still depend on aid and more than 6 million of them have been forced from their homes but remain in the country.