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Syria pledging conference: Three key trends

By Elizabeth Dickinson

KUWAIT CITY, 1 April 2015 (IRIN) - On Tuesday, international donors pledged a record US$3.8 billion towards humanitarian relief for the Syrian crisis, now in its fifth year. Here are three key trends from the conference.

1. Political frustration and polarisation

While the amount raised was up significantly on the $2.4billion pledged in 2014, it still falls far short of the $7.4 billion the UN says it needs for relief efforts in 2015. No goal had been set for how much of this the conference was set to fulfil.

There was also growing frustration about a lack of political solution for the crisis at the conference, with states becoming increasingly vocal in their criticism of the UN Security Council (UNSC).

"The UNSC has failed to find a solution that would put an end to this conflict and spare the blood of our brethren," said Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah, the ruler of host Kuwait, in his opening address.

"The UNSC, and especially the permanent members, are required to put aside their narrowed interests and wide differences and to join forces to come up with a solution that ends this devastating conflict," he said.

While Kuwait opposes Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Iran has backed him.

The country's deputy foreign minister, Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, accused the UN of failing Syria. He told the conference that "some sides" had not respected the principles of non-intervention in Syria. He did not pledge to the gathering, but said his country had already contributed $4.2 billion toward what he said was civilian assistance.

In a sign of growing regional tensions, Mr. Amir-Abdollahian also criticized a Saudi Arabia-led military coalition in Yemen as a "strategic mistake," in a discussion with press that was cut short by organisers.

Hopes for a detente between pro and anti-Assad alliances appear slim.

2. 'Resilience' support for neighbours on the brink

More than 85 percent of the close to 4 million Syrian refugees who have fled their homes since 2011 are living in host communities, not refugee camps, and there were several warnings at the conference about the economic and political strain this was putting on neighbouring countries, such as Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Egypt.

"All those countries who wish Lebanon to stay stable and secure, you must reach decisions that help us [and] to put an end to the Syrian crisis," Lebanon's Prime Minister, Tammam Salam, said.

"The consequences of [the humanitarian crisis] are becoming a threat to international peace and security," Emir al-Sabah said.

Neglected areas both inside and out of Syria were being exploited, he said, as "a safe haven for terrorism organisations… using [them] as a launching pad to carry out their cynical plans."

Aware of the strain on host communities, Sima Sami Bahous, assistant administrator and director of the Regional Bureau for Arab States at the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) stressed a commitment to building "resilience" with new aid programmes being designed to go beyond basic water, food and shelter provision, and offer education and livelihood opportunities.

Bahous told IRIN that UNDP had hosted a meeting on the sidelines of the Kuwait conference with a group of donors calling themselves "Friends of Resilience".

And, last week it had signed an agreement with Jordan's Ministry of Planning and International Co-operation to establish the "Jordan Resilience Fund", aimed at targeting infrastructure and other longer-term projects.

3. Gulf donors continue to rise

Gulf Arab donors pledged big again at the conference, underlining how their role in the global humanitarian system is changing.

Kuwait, hosting the conference for the third year running, put up $500 million, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) pledged $100 million and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia put forward $60 million.

The day before the conference, regional NGOs met and pledged US$508 million, with US$100 million coming from Turkish NGO Humanitarian Relief Foundation (IHH).

These large pledges follow on from Saudi Arabia's $500million donation to the United Nations in Iraq last year.

Qatar, which in 2014 gave over US$100 million to the Syria response, did not make a specific pledge at the Kuwait conference, but a representative from its delegation told the conference it would continue to channel money through its own local charities.

The UAE's donation will also go through Emirati institutions, the country's Minister of International Cooperation, Sheikha Lubna Al Qasimi, said. The Emirates Red Crescent runs its own refugee camp for Syrians in Jordan and supports health and other services in a number of countries.

And Kuwait said that of its $500 million contribution, $88 million was coming from local relief groups.

Officials at the conference noted that Gulf donors have become key partners in the Syria response, both in terms of providing funding and operating on the ground.

Valerie Amos, outgoing UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, told IRIN: " [Before] there was a feeling in the room from the Gulf that there was an us and a them… We as a humanitarian community have talked about partnership but it was not real."

But significant efforts have since been undertaken to improve coordination between UN agencies and Gulf donors and organisations including a bilingual English and Arabic website called ArabHum dedicated to humanitarian work in the region.

"The next step is joint assessments," said Amin Awad, UNHCR's Middle East & North Africa director, who said he wanted Gulf charities and donors to be involved in needs assessments so that priorities can be better aligned.

UNDP's Bahous said there had been significant progress. "The relationship is developing into a partnership," she told IRIN.


Theme (s): Aid Policy,

Copyright © IRIN 2015
This material comes to you via IRIN, the humanitarian news and analysis service of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. The opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the United Nations or its Member States.
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