U.S. Adds to Syrian Aid Pledges as UN Outlines Needs

The United Nations was promised $2.4 billion in humanitarian assistance for Syrians suffering because of the country’s civil war, less than half what it’s seeking in one of the organization’s largest ever appeals.

The U.S. pledged $380 million, while Kuwait, which hosted today’s aid conference, offered $500 million. The UN wants $6.5 billion by the end of 2014 to pay for food, water, medical care and shelter. The aid promised today will cover the UN response for the next six months for Syrian refugees and Syrians affected within the country, Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said.

Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Norway and the U.K. also made pledges, while non-governmental organizations offered $407 million. Aid from the UN appeal will go to the 9.3 million people in need of humanitarian assistance inside Syria as well as refugees in Jordan, Iraq, Turkey, Egypt and Lebanon.

“The numbers are now so large they are difficult to comprehend,” said Valerie Amos, the UN’s under-secretary general and emergency relief coordinator, speaking in Kuwait. She noted that Syria’s GDP has dropped by 45 percent and that the Syrian pound has lost 80 percent of its value.

The conflict in Syria has dragged on for nearly three years. It started with peaceful demonstrations in March 2011 against President Bashar al-Assad’s government and has escalated into a sectarian conflict pitting mainly Sunni Muslim fighters against Assad, whose Alawite sect is an offshoot of Shiite Islam. The conflict has spilled into Iraq and Jordan, threatening regional stability.

Talks Split

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s travel this week, to Paris, Rome and Kuwait, has focused on launching peace talks next week in Geneva to end the war. He said the crisis in Syria has left more than 130,000 dead, 8 million displaced, and 2 million seeking refuge in neighboring countries.

Ahead of the talks, a split has emerged between the U.S. and Russia, the nations sponsoring the negotiations, over the participation of regional power Iran. The U.S. insists the Islamic Republic must first agree on conference goals, including the setting up of a transitional administration if Assad were to step down. Russia says it would be self-defeating to meet without Iran, a key Assad supporter.

Iran’s participation at the Geneva talks is “very important,” Ban told reporters in Kuwait. “There is no firm confirmation yet from Iran on its attendance,” he said, adding there were still “differences of opinion on the exact role and reasons for their participation.”

Hunger Weapon

Today’s $380 million brings total U.S. humanitarian assistance for Syrians inside and outside the country, and to neighboring countries hosting refugees, to more than $1.7 billion, Kerry said.

The situation in Syria is an “outrage,” he said, one that demands a “much greater response” than has been provided yet by world powers.

“None of this will matter unless the money goes to the people who need it and this will only change if the Assad regime stops blocking aid workers from reaching besieged communities and stop using starvation as a weapon of war,” Kerry said.

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