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Syria Donor Event Opens With More Than $1 Billion in Pledges

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samatha Power attends the Third International Humanitarian Pledging Conference for Syria in Bayan Palace, Kuwait City, Kuwait, March 31, 2015.

The United States pledged $507 million and Kuwait promised $500 million toward humanitarian aid for Syria as the United Nations issued its largest yet appeal for $8.4 billion in commitments this year for the war-ravaged country.

Emir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah made the pledge at the start of the third annual gathering in the capital, Kuwait City. In his opening remarks, the emir said the Syrian conflict is the “biggest humanitarian crisis in recent history.”

The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, which is holding the summit, said aid is needed to help more than 12 million people both in Syria and scattered through the region by more than four years of civil war, as well as the countries and communities struggling to host them.

The U.N. agency said the Syrian crisis has created the “the largest displacement crisis in the world” and that 12.2 million people - just under half of them children - are in “dire need of aid.”

The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres said the situation for people is “at a tipping point” and “unsustainable.” He said this current U.N. appeal is different from previous ones because it recognizes both the immediate and the longer-term imperatives of responding to the crisis.

US, EU donations

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power announced the United States’ pledge of $507 million toward the effort. The European Union pledged nearly 1.1 billion euros in humanitarian aid, double the amount the bloc promised last year.

"The needs are overwhelming and an extraordinary effort is needed by the wider donor community to mobilize significant funding," EU aid commissioner Christos Stylianides said in a statement.

The United Arab Emirates said it was providing $100 million and Saudi Arabia pledged an additional $60 million.

Some 200,000 people have died and nearly half the Syrian population - 11 million, according to U.N. figures – has been displaced by the conflict that began with anti-government protests in 2011 and spiraled into full-scale civil war.

Of the displaced, nearly four million have been forced to flee to nearby countries such as Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan, Iraq and Egypt, stretching resources there to the limit.

The number of people needing humanitarian aid has increased by 2.9 million in just 10 months.

Nearly 80 governments and dozens of aid agencies are meeting in Kuwait for the U.N. summit. They hope to collect major pledges toward an $8.4 billion appeal for Syria.

Although the response to the first annual conference in Kuwait in 2013 exceeded the $1.5 billion requested, last year's conference only secured pledges of $2.4 billion toward a $6.5 billion appeal.

Some material for this report came from Reuters, AP and AFP.