“These pledges prove that the people devastated by this conflict are not forgotten,” UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said during the Second International Humanitarian Pledging Conference on Syria. “It is also sending a strong signal to the neighbouring countries – that we appreciate their generosity, and that they will not be left to shoulder the burden alone.”The conflict in Syria, which began in March 2011, has produced “unprecedented” demands for humanitarian and development agencies, Mr. Ban told the gathering earlier, noting that $6.5 billion is needed this year.An estimated 9.3 million people in Syria, many of them stranded in hard-to-reach and besieged areas, urgently need help, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). Nearly half of them are children, who do not have adequate access to health care or education. More than 3 million people have fled Syria and are taking refuge in Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Iraq and Egypt, causing great hardship and raising tensions throughout the region.In January 2013, the First Pledging Conference for Syria saw 43 Member States pledge $1.5 billion towards humanitarian efforts. Those funds were used to provide life-saving assistance for millions of people in Syria and surrounding countries, including emergency food rations, mobile medical care and vaccinations, clean water and sanitation, and basic shelter.“Humanitarian aid is the difference between life and death, hope and despair. It has already assisted millions of people affected by this crisis,” said Mr. Ban. “I count on you to show the Syrian people that the world is here to help.”Hosted by the Emir of Kuwait, Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmed Al-Jaber Al-Sabah, and chaired by the UN Secretary-General, the conference offers the international community to continue supporting the humanitarian response to help the millions affected by the Syria crisis. It comes ahead of next week’s talks in Switzerland aimed at finding a political solution to the civil war that has already claimed well over 100,000 lives amid fighting between the Government and various groups seeking the ouster of President Bashar al-Assad.“This is the biggest humanitarian crisis we face today,” UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Valerie Amos told the conference. “We all hope that the political talks due to begin next week will deliver a positive result. In the meantime, every child, every woman, every man affected by this crisis deserves our continued support.Ms. Amos, who recently carried out her seventh visit to Syria in nearly two years, said that “the very fabric of the society has unravelled, and sectarianism has taken hold.” There are persistent reports of people running out of food in besieged communities, public health is in crisis and nearly one-fifth of Syria’s schools are either damaged or being used as shelters.Despite the constraints, humanitarian operations are making a difference to millions of people’s lives every day, she noted, adding that agencies were able to increase response activities across the country throughout the past year.“We know that we must do all we can to continue to scale up our activities this year if we are to keep pace with the growing needs,” stated Ms. Amos.António Guterres, UN High Commissioner for Refugees, noted in his remarks that within a few years, Syria has gone from being the world’s second largest refugee-hosting country to becoming its fastest refugee-producing country. “It breaks my heart to see the people of Syria, who for decades generously welcomed refugees from other countries in the region, now forced into exile themselves,” said Mr. Guterres. The agency which he heads (UNHCR) has registered over 2.3 million Syrians as refugees in the region, and governments estimate the total number of those who fled at over 3 million, including many who have not asked for assistance. Countries in the region – Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Iraq and Egypt – have received an unrelenting stream of fleeing Syrians and have provided them protection, at enormous cost to themselves, Mr. Guterres said. “Few refugee influxes have ever generated this profound an impact on their host countries, with such dramatic demographic, economic and social consequences. The pressure is felt heavily in all areas of daily life, as budget deficits are increasing, growth suffers and jobs, salaries and price levels are affected across the region, leaving local families struggling to make ends meet.”He stressed that the generosity of Syria’s neighbours needs to be matched by massive international support, and that countries in the region need not only strong financial assistance, but also need others to help carry the burden of actually taking in and protecting refugees. “My appeal to all countries – including those beyond the region – is therefore to keep their borders open for those who are forced to flee and seek protection elsewhere,” he stated, adding that there is something “fundamentally wrong” in a world where asylum-seekers drown at sea or are pushed back from land borders.While in Kuwait, Mr. Ban met separately with several leaders, including Prime Minister Najib Mikati of Lebanon and United States Secretary of State John Kerry, as well as officials from Kuwait, Jordan and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.
Doctors treat a seriously injured man for head wounds at the Al Razy surgical hospital, one of only remaining hospitals in Aleppo, Syria. Photo: WHO/T. Jasarevic In his statement, the Emergency Relief Coordinator also said he was “gravely concerned” over the deteriorating situation in other besieged areas in Syria where people have little physical protection and limited access to basic life-saving assistance, including the neighbourhood of Al Waer in Homs city. “Despite the reports of a current pause in fighting, the estimated 75,000 people in Al Waer have been subjected to an increase in indiscriminate and aerial attacks over the past week causing the death and injury of many civilians, including children, the reported destruction of homes and first responder stations, as well as increased restrictions on freedom of movement,” Mr. O’Brien noted. He once again reiterated his call on all parties for the immediate lifting of sieges of civilians in Syria, including Madaya, Deir-Ez-Zor city, Douma, Foah and Kefraya and other besieged locations, for an end to indiscriminate attacks on civilian-populated areas and civilian infrastructure, and to take all necessary measures to ensure protection for all civilians as required under international humanitarian and human rights law. “The UN was not a party to this agreement, and was not informed of the evacuation until a few hours before it took place,” the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, Stephen O’Brien, said in an overnight statement. Let us be clear, all sieges, a medieval tactic, must be lifted. This should not be through any type of agreement which results in the forced displacement of the civilian population.“The United Nations works on the ground at the request of both the Government of Syria and the people of Darayya to address humanitarian and protection needs of all those affected by the evacuation,” Mr. O’Brien added, “however, agreements resulting in a mass evacuation of civilians after a prolonged period of besiegement do not comply with international humanitarian law and human rights law.”The UN official said the evacuation should not be precedent setting for other besieged areas in Syria, and those displaced should be allowed to return voluntarily, in safety and in dignity, to their homes as soon as the situation allows it. “Let us be clear, all sieges, a medieval tactic, must be lifted,” Mr. O’Brien said. “This should not be through any type of agreement which results in the forced displacement of the civilian population.” According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs – which Mr. O’Brien heads –the evacuation of Darayya on 26-27 August followed four years of unrelenting siege, during which children starved, people resorted to eating grass and the town was subjected to an onslaught of fighting, including aerial bombardment, and severe restrictions on freedom of movement for civilians, as well as on commercial and humanitarian goods.