The European Union has pledged more than $650 million in humanitarian aid for Syrians during a Brussels pledging conference co-hosted by the United Nations, as aid officials warn of escalating needs inside and outside the war-torn country.
This is the fifth humanitarian pledging conference for Syrians since their country plunged into a brutal and ongoing civil war a decade ago. Instead of getting better, the U.N.'s relief chief, Mark Lowcock, said their humanitarian situation is getting worse.
"There's less violence, but there's more suffering," he said. "And that is because of the economic consequences primarily that have been wrought on Syria. There is an increase in the number of people who are in need of humanitarian assistance, and the scale and severity of their needs is also higher than it's ever been."
Lowcock said the U.N. is matching the soaring needs with its biggest-ever response plan.
Of the $10 billion the U.N. aimed to raise at the Brussels conference, $4.2 billion is for Syrians inside their country, and another $5.8 billion is for Syrian refugees and their hosts in the Middle East. The billions requested come at a time when the coronavirus pandemic has crippled many economies, and aid workers fear Syria donor fatigue.
But that's apparently not the case with the European Union. The EU's foreign policy chief Josep Borrell announced the bloc's 560-million-euro pledge — more than $656 million — for 2021, which is on par with last year.
Syrian needs are immense. Borrell listed a grim tally from 10 years of conflict: more than 400,000 dead, 12 million internally displaced or refugees, and 13 million needing humanitarian support.
He also delivered a message to President Bashar al-Assad's regime and other actors in the crisis.
"The future of Syria belongs to none of the factions and none of the outside powers," Borrell said. "It's for Syrians to shape Syrian-own and Syrian-led negotiations in the auspices of the United Nations. If they do, we will respond."
Julien Barnes-Dacey, who heads the Middle East program at the European Council on Foreign Relations policy institute, agreed.
"Syria is falling apart. It's a broken country," he said. "The Assad regime has won the war, but they're failing to win the peace. And that means it will continue to be a source of instability and regional problem for quite some time to come."
Barnes-Dacey said that not addressing Syria's ongoing crisis carries considerable security risks for the international community.
"I think that will mean the potential for refugee flows, new space for extremist mobilization, regional instability. All of these are risks that will effect Europe in particular," he said.
U.N. humanitarian chief Lowcock put it another way. He said supporting Syria's children was in everybody's interest, including for strategic reasons. What will they be like when they grow up, he asked, if all they know is a world of war — and if all they see is suffering?