The United States announced on Wednesday it would donate another $380 million towards the Syrian humanitarian crisis, bringing the total American contribution over the last three years up to $1.7 billion even as other wealthy nations’ donations languish and aid remains a distant hope for many Syrians.
The American announcement came during the Second International Humanitarian Pledging Conference for Syria currently being held in Kuwait, where the United Nations is requesting $2.7 billion to cover the needs of Syrians who remain within the country alone over the next year. “Each of our nations has no choice but to do all we can to help the innocent civilians who have endured far, far too much for too long,” Secretary of State John Kerry said in remarks at the conference. “And I can pledge to all of you today that the United States will continue to do our part in every way possible, not only in the assistance, but on the diplomatic front.”
Of the $380 million, according to a State Department fact sheet, the bulk will be used within Syria to provide “emergency medical care, funding for shelter and critical water, sanitation and hygiene projects” to the 9.3 million people in need throughout the country. Syria’s children are a particular focus of this round of aid, as it will “support children’s needs in education, nutrition, health, and psychosocial care, while also providing additional safe and nurturing spaces for Syria’s children to learn, play, and deal with the stresses of conflict.” Funding will also be provided to Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Iraq, and Egypt — the main countries housing Syria’s 2.3 million refugees.
But the United States can give more, according to an analysis from international aid agency Oxfam. In a review of the pledges made to the crisis, Oxfam concluded prior to the latest pledge from Kerry that the United States was giving at 88 percent of what could be considered its “fair share” of humanitarian assistance towards Syrians, based on its gross national income (GNI) and overall wealth, even as it is the largest overall donor to efforts. This places it in the same category as France, whose contributions are about 77 percent of its share, but behind the states neighboring Syria, such as Jordan which is providing 1,270 times what would normally be considered its share.
The U.S.’ contributions are still far beyond that seen from Russia, the strongest backer of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad over the last several years. Based on data from the United Nations’ Financial Tracking Service, Oxfam said that “Russia is falling far short of expectations having committed just five per cent of what would be considered its fair share.” Other wealthy countries are also lagging, including Japan and South Korea, who have provided 31 and 5 percent respectively.
“The UN has launched its largest appeal ever,” Gareth Price Jones, who heads up Oxfam’s response inside Syria, said in a statement. “It did not do this lightly. The scale of the appeal simply reflects the immense scale of the need. If every country gave its fair share then the appeal would be funded. We urge all states not to shrink from their responsibilities and to do their bit.”
Even as the conference in Kuwait is ongoing, however, the aid promised is unlikely to reach many of those still within Syria. “All sides in this conflict have shown a total disregard for their responsibilities under International Humanitarian and Human Rights Law,” Valerie Amos, head of the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, told the conference. “In its Presidential Statement on 2nd October 2013, the UN Security Council called for an end to indiscriminate attacks, and for the unhindered passage of humanitarian aid. But we have yet to see any major difference on the ground. In fact, the situation has got worse.”
The level of decline is most evident within Damscus’s Yarmouk camp for Palestinian refugees and Syrians displaced from their homes. Within that camp, it is clear that aid is being used as a weapon in the ongoing civil war, as a year-long blockade to the area has prevented aid workers from delivering medicine to hospitals and food to civilians. “Since October, 46 people have died of starvation, illnesses exacerbated by hunger or because they could not obtain medical aid,” residents told The Guardian. The U.N. has confirmed 15 of those deaths, but said that it was impossible to know the full extent because of lack of access.
“The sick and wounded have not been able to leave, we’ve not been able to get food in,” Amos told the BBC on Sunday. “There are reports of people on the brink of starvation,” she continued, including in the Yarmouk camp.
The Assad government — and to a lesser extent the various rebels — have been accused of withholding assistance from areas as punishment, providing it as a reward for loyalty. While some humanitarian workers had previously delivered aid to rebel-held territory, flouting Damascus, the regime is beginning to crack down “calling the delivery of aid to rebel areas from Turkey a breach of sovereignty” and threatening to expel groups that defy them.
“That is absolutely unacceptable,” Kerry said during his remarks. “If the regime can allow access to United Nations and international weapons inspectors, surely it can do the same for neutral, international humanitarian assistance.”