U.N. to call for more aid for Syrians at virtual donor meeting

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – Governments are set to pledge billions of dollars in aid for Syrians at a virtual conference on Tuesday to help refugees enduring Syria’s ninth year of armed conflict, as COVID-19 and high food prices worsen the plight of millions.

This year, the United Nations is looking for almost $10 billion for people in Syria and surrounding countries. It hopes much of that will come from the 60 governments and non-governmental agencies gathering by video link on Tuesday from 0800 GMT. The European Union is hosting the event.

The pledging, now an annual event, breaks down into a U.N. appeal of $3.8 billion for aid inside Syria and $6.04 billion for countries hosting refugees. Only a fraction has been raised so far.

“The needs have never been greater,” said Corinne Fleischer at the World Food Programme, a U.N. agency.

In Syria, more than 11 million people need aid and protection, the U.N. says, while 6.6 million have fled to neighbouring countries in the world’s largest refugee crisis.

Many Syrians face an unprecedented hunger crisis, with over 9.3 million people lacking adequate food, while the country’s coronavirus outbreak could accelerate, the U.N. has said.

A combination of an economic slump and COVID-19 lockdown measures have pushed food prices more than 200% higher in less than a year, according to the World Food Programme.

“The COVID-19 crisis has had an immediate and devastating impact on livelihoods of millions of Syrian refugees and their hosts in the region,” U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi said in a statement.

However, money pledged is only what European officials call a sticking plaster to meet Syrians’ immediate needs.

Rebuilding destroyed cities is likely to take billions more dollars and cannot start until powers involved in the war back a peaceful transition away from the rule of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, the European Union says.

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