US, Kuwait pledge over $1.38 billion towards Syria crisis

KUWAIT CITY (Reuters, AFP) - The United States pledged US$507 million (S$698 million) and Kuwait promised US$500 million towards easing Syria's humanitarian crisis at an international summit in the Kuwaiti capital on Tuesday.

The United Nations, which is holding the summit, says aid is needed to help 18 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 United Arab Emirates said it was providing US$100 million and Saudi Arabia pledged an additional US$60 million.

Some 200,000 people have died and nearly half the Syrian population has been displaced by the conflict that began with anti-government protests in 2011 and spiralled into full-scale civil war. 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 UN summit. They hope to collect major pledges towards an US$8.4 billion appeal for Syria.

Kuwait has hosted a donor conference for Syrians in each of the last two years, generating several billion dollars worth of pledges. But although the response to the first annual conference in Kuwait in 2013 exceeded the US$1.5 billion requested, last year's conference only secured pledges of US$2.4 billion towards a US$6.5 billion appeal.

The US pledge was announced by its ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, while Kuwait's pledge was made by Emir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmed al-Sabah, who said the money would come from the public and private sectors.

He described the crisis unfolding as the "biggest humanitarian catastrophe in modern history".

"I am pleased to announce the pledging of US$500 million from Kuwait's government and private sectors to support the humanitarian efforts in Syria," Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad Al-Sabah said. "We are meeting here to face the biggest humanitarian catastrophe in the modern history of mankind."

Speaking at the donors' meet, UN Secretary general Ban Ki Moon said that four out of five Syrians now live in poverty.

"The Syrian people are victims of the worst humanitarian crisis of our time," Ban told the conference, which the UN hopes will raise billions of dollars in aid.

"Four out of five Syrians live in poverty, misery and deprivation. The country has lost nearly four decades of human development," Ban said.

"Nearly half of the country's men, women, and children have been forced to flee homes," the UN chief added.

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