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Mar 31, 2015 5:03 AM

Kuwait opens Syria donor conference with $500 million pledge

The Associated Press

KUWAIT CITY (AP) Kuwait opened an international donors' conference for Syria on Tuesday with a pledge of $500 million in humanitarian aid as the United Nations issued its largest yet appeal for $8.4 billion in commitments this year for the war-ravaged country.

Emir Sheikh Sabah Al Ahmad Al Sabah made the pledge at the start of the third annual gathering in Kuwait. In his opening remarks, the emir said the Syrian conflict is the "biggest humanitarian crisis in recent history."

The civil war, now in its fifth year, has killed at least 220,000 people and displaced 11 million, according to U.N. figures. Of the displaced, nearly 4 million have been forced to flee to nearby countries such as Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan, Iraq and Egypt, stretching resources there to the limit.

As the crisis in Syria continues unabated, the U.N. says $2.9 billion is needed in 2015 for Syrian people inside the country, and $5.5 billion for those who have fled to the five countries.

The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs says the Syrian crisis has created the "the largest displacement crisis in the world" and that 12.2 million people just under half of them children are in "dire need of aid."

"The Syrian people's plight has spilled over the hosting countries, exhausting their resources and it is our role to support the host countries," Al Sabah said.

Ahead of this year's gathering, the German government said it will pledge $277 million in new aid. Kuwaiti state media say local charities and aid organizations pledged another $506 million just before the conference started.

At last year's donors' conference, nearly 40 nations and key organizations pledged some $2.4 billion, though the U.N. had called for $6.5 billion in pledges. In 2013, some $1.5 billion were pledged, less than half of the U.N.'s appeal of $4.4 billion.

The U.N. humanitarian office's Financial Tracking Service said in November that nearly a quarter of last year's pledges, or $585 million, had not been fulfilled.

In his speech at the conference Tuesday, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon said that more of last year's pledges have since come through, up to about 90 percent of what was pledged. He said the Syrians need more than just sympathy, and that they need commitments.

Some 78 countries and 40 international aid organizations are present at this year's conference. Kuwait, consistently one of the largest donors at the conference, similarly pledged $500 million last year and $300 million the year before.


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