Time to change the narrative on Syria says UN chief

4 Feb 16

A high-level conference that hopes to rally international support for the Syrian crisis has opened today with pledges worth billions of pounds from the event’s hosts.

The United Nations, Kuwait, Germany, Norway, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey announced the funds at the Supporting Syria and the Region Conference in London this morning, where world leaders, delegations, NGOs, the private sector and civil society will convene in hopes of alleviating the impact of the devastating conflict as it approaches its sixth year.

Opening the first pledging session, UN secretary general Ban Ki-Moon urged the international community to meet the “enormous needs” of people caught up in the conflict. The UN’s appeal for Syria in 2016 is $7.73bn, while regional governments have asked for a further $1.2bn.

“Today, let us change the narrative. Let us, with our solidarity and generosity, bring true hope to the people of Syria and the region,” Ban said.

The emir of Kuwait – a country that has hosted three previous pledging conferences for the UN’s Syria appeals – kicked off the first pledging session with a promise to deliver $300m in funding over three years to what he described as a “painful and tragic” crisis.

He was followed by German chancellor Angela Merkel, who pledged €2.3bn to the crisis by 2018. This includes €1.1bn to the UN’s humanitarian appeal this year, €570m of which will go to the World Food Programme – 50% of the UN agency's required funds for its work in Syria in 2016.

Merkel warned that there is “no time to waste” in improving the humanitarian situation and bringing this “catastrophe” to an end. She also referred to a €3bn fund from the European Union to help Turkey, which hosts millions of Syrian refugees. .

Following Merkel, Norwegian prime minister Erna Solberg pledged to triple Norway’s funding for the crisis to approximately $1.6bn over the next four years, primarily for education and child protection.

UK prime minister David Cameron also confirmed that Britain would double its pledge to £2.3bn, and promised the UK would commit at least £280m each year from 2017-19.

He urged the international community to “rise to the challenge” the crisis presents and “match the ambition” set by Britain and its co-hosts, Kuwait, Norway and Germany.

The opening plenary session also heard from Jordan’s King Abdullah, Lebanon’s prime minister Tammam Salam and Turkey’s prime minister Ahmet Davutoglu, who all appealed to the international community for their continued support as their countries struggle with an influx of millions of Syrian refugees.

The conference opened with the news that peace talks between parties to the conflict in Geneva have been suspended, after the UN special envoy to Syria Staffan de Misturua stated he will not talk just for the sake of talking.

Ban referred to the fact that the talks were undermined by the continuous lack of humanitarian access and sudden increases in aerial bombing and military activity in the country as “deeply disturbing”.

He said this shows “just how deep divisions are” and noted that “the focus on the people of Syria is being lost amid petty procedural matters”.

He stressed that this increases the urgency of achieving the aims of today’s conference. “Even if, by some miracle, the conflict ends tomorrow, the enormous humanitarian and development needs will continue for years and even decades.”

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