Nations Pledge Billions for Syria at London Donors Conference

Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron (R) arrives at the donors Conference for Syria in London. Britain pledged to spend an additional 1.2 billion pounds on aid for Syrians by 2020. REUTERS/Toby Melville

By Estelle Shirbon and William James

LONDON, Feb 4 – Donor nations pledged on Thursday to give billions of dollars in aid to Syrians as world leaders gathered for a conference in London to tackle the world’s worst humanitarian crisis after the breakdown of peace talks the day before.

With Syria‘s five-year-old civil war raging and peace talks in Geneva halted after just a few days, the conference will try to address the needs of some 6 million people displaced within Syria and more than 4 million refugees in other countries.

“The situation is not sustainable. We cannot go on like this. There is no military solution. Only political dialogue will rescue the Syrian people from their intolerable suffering,” U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon told the meeting.

United Nations agencies are appealing for $7.73 billion to cope with the disaster this year, plus $1.2 billion needed to fund national response plans by countries in the region.

Conference co-hosts Britain, Norway and Germany were the first to announce their pledges.

U.S Secretary of State John Kerry pledged a total of around $890 million in aid for Syria.

Britain promised an extra 1.2 billion pounds ($1.76 billion) by 2020, raising its total commitment to 2.3 billion pounds. Norway pledged $1.17 billion over the next four years, while Germany said it would give 2.3 billion euros ($2.57 billion) by 2018.

The almost five-year-old conflict has killed an estimated 250,000 people and driven millions into Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and beyond.

For European nations, improving the humanitarian situation in Syria and neighboring countries is crucial to reducing incentives for Syrians to travel to Europe, where a large refugee influx has put many countries under severe strain.

“The German government is convinced that the refugee movements can be solved by fighting their reason for leaving. London is a major step to come closer to this aim,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel told reporters at the conference.

The U.S. money comprises about $600 million in humanitarian assistance and around $290 million in development aid for neighboring states, he said.

U.S. officials told reporters that the $290 million would go to Jordan and Lebanon and would pay for such things as education to help them cope with the influx of Syrian children who need to go to school.

The U.S. aid pledge covers the U.S. 2016 fiscal year, which will end on Sept. 30, 2016.

A U.N. envoy halted his attempts to conduct Syrian peace talks on Wednesday after the Syrian army, backed by Russian air strikes, advanced against rebel forces north of Aleppo, choking opposition supply lines from Turkey to the city.

Arriving at the London conference, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Russia had a responsibility to live up to its U.N. commitment to allow access to humanitarian aid and to cease attacks on Syrian civilians.

Kerry said he had spoken to his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov and the pair had agreed on the need to discuss how to achieve a ceasefire in Syria.

U.S. and Russian support for opposing sides in the war, which has drawn in regional states and enabled the spread of Islamic State insurgents, means a local conflict has become an increasingly fraught global standoff.

Merkel told the conference that all parties were responsible for achieving a ceasefire, but especially Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Ban said it was disturbing that the first steps in the Geneva peace talks had been undermined by a lack of sufficient humanitarian access and by a sudden increase in aerial bombing and military activity on the ground.

“The coming days should be used to get back to the table, not to secure more gains on the battlefield,” he said.

The conference will focus particularly on the need to provide an education for displaced Syrian children and job opportunities for adults, reflecting growing recognition that the fallout from the Syrian war will be very long-term. ($1 = 0.6825 pounds) ($1 = 0.8952 euros)

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