BRUSSELS: The United Nations will urge international donors to pledge up to $10 billion on Tuesday to help Syrians fleeing a decade of civil war in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, saying the need for humanitarian support has never been so great.
In the 5th annual conference to keep Syrians refugees from starvation, the event hosted by the European Union will seek $4.2 billion for people inside Syria and $5.8 billion for refugees and their hosts in the Middle East.
Some 24 million people need basic aid, a rise of 4 million over the past year and the highest number yet since a crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in 2011 led to civil war.
United Nations aid chief Mark Lowcock said “it has been 10 years of despair and disaster for Syrians.”
“Now plummeting living conditions, economic decline and COVID-19 result in more hunger, malnutrition and disease. There is less fighting, but no peace dividend,” Lowcock said in a statement.
Fighting between Syrian army forces and rebels has subsided since a deal a year ago ended a Russian-led bombing campaign that had displaced more than a million people, but Russian air strikes, along with Iranian and Syrian-backed militaries, continue to assault rebel outposts.
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is due to address the conference on Tuesday. On March 10, marking a decade of conflict, he said Syria is a “living nightmare” where nearly half the children have never lived a day without war and 60% of Syrians are at risk of going hungry.
In a separate statement on Tuesday, the Red Cross Red Crescent Movement urged international donors to help rebuild the country, particularly to repair critical water, health and electricity services.
“Our infrastructure is ruined,” said Khaled Hboubati, the Syrian Arab Red Crescent Society.
Rebuilding destroyed cities will take billions of dollars more and cannot start until powers involved in the conflict, including Russia and Iran, help agree a peace settlement, the European Union, which is hosting the conference, says.
International Committee of the Red Cross head Peter Maurer urged world powers to reach a peace deal or face many more annual donor conferences for Syria. “Humanitarians are here to help but the ultimate responsibility lies with parties to the conflict,” he said.