EU pledges big for 'greatest humanitarian crisis of modern times' in Syria

European Union humanitarian aid chief Kristalina Georgieva speaks with Sabah Al-Khalid Al-Sabah, Kuwait's deputy prime minister and minister for foreign affairs during the second humanitarian pleding conference for Syria held in Kuwait on Jan. 22. Photo by: EU

“We are here today to raise money for the greatest humanitarian crisis of modern times.”

That was the rallying call from EU humanitarian aid chief Kristalina Georgieva at Wednesday’s second pledging conference for Syria in Kuwait.

As reported by Devex on Thursday, the conference raised just north of $2.4 billion — well short of the $6.5 billion combined appeal the United Nations has issued for 2014.

Notwithstanding the shortfall, the European Commission pledged €165 million ($225 million), with Georgieva asserting in her speech to assembled dignitaries on Wednesday that although the crisis in Syria had deepened, the EU was responding by delivering “seven times more” than its original pledge, now totalling some $1 billion.

Taken together, this response — including pledges from the Commission and EU member states — totalled $753 million, bringing its funding to $3.5 billion since the beginning of the Syrian crisis.

Crunching the numbers

Drilling down into the details of the Commission’s pledge, Devex spoke with a well-placed source at the humanitarian aid & civil protection directorate-general DG ECHO who confirmed that €100 million of this initial pledge will go towards the many ongoing humanitarian projects in both Syria and neighbouring countries that are currently hosting some 2.3 million refugees.

A number of other financial instruments have been mobilized, the same source confirmed, including €65 million of economic, development and stabilization assistance through the European Neighborhood Instrument.

The upshot is that Commission-funded projects operated by the EU’s partners in the field — including the major United Nations humanitarian agencies, the Red Cross/Red Crescent family and iNGOs — are now set to wield increased financial clout to provide food, shelter, water and sanitation, protection and health care, including polio vaccinations.

Neighborhood watch

A key concern voiced by some observers in advance of the pledging conference related to the amount of funding earmarked for neighboring countries hosting displaced persons.

The ECHO official noted that 55.9 percent of the Commission’s €615 million of humanitarian funding already goes towards meeting the needs of neighbouring countries hosting large numbers of refugees.

Furthermore, the source confirmed that humanitarian assistance in neighboring countries does not only cover the needs of Syrian refugees but also host communities, in order to help mitigate tensions between the two groups and to support the vulnerability of local populations dealing with a huge — some might say overwhelming — influx in recent months. Approximately 20 percent of the funding allocated inside Lebanon and Jordan, for example, will go towards meeting needs of host communities, including shelter, non-food items and cash programs in non-camp settings.

But does this mean that we can also expect extra bilateral support to governments of countries hosting refugees in the coming months?

According to the ECHO official, funding will only be channelled through the Commission’s humanitarian partners and not to governments. This, the source added, was to ensure the “respect of humanitarian principles of humanity, independence, impartiality and neutrality.”

Good fences make good neighbors?

Aside from funding, the elephant in the room on Wednesday remained the issue of which countries will take measures to expedite the accommodation of displaced persons within their own borders, as neighboring host country camps reach saturation point.

Several EU member states — Austria, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Hungary, Ireland, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Sweden and Germany — have already announced their intention to allocate resettlement to Syrian refugees.

To encourage and support more EU member states to follow suit, a joint resettlement program, first adopted in March 2012, will be promoted, whereby the Commission provides a €6,000 lump sum per hosted refugee.

However, despite such financial incentives and amid calls for solidarity, responsibility and increased action to resettle thousands more people from refugee camps, the ECHO official clarified that the Commission cannot force any member state to offer resettlement and it is so far unclear what conversations are taking place between the European Union’s executive body, the host authorities and EU member state representatives in this regard.

Nonetheless, the source confirmed that ECHO was collaborating “very closely” with the member states on its overall humanitarian approach and the consequences of the conflict in the wider region.

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About the author

  • Richard Jones

    In his role as Editorial Director Richard oversees content for digital series, reports and events, leading a talented team of writers and editors, conducting high-level video interviews and moderating panels at events. Previously partnerships editor and an associate editor at Devex, Richard brings to bear 15 years of experience as an editor in institutional communications, public affairs and international development. Based in Barcelona, his development experience includes stints in the Dominican Republic, Argentina and Ecuador, as well as extensive work travel in Africa and Asia.

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