United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon arrives at the Supporting Syria and the Region conference in London, United Kingdom. The conference aims to raise new funding to help address the needs of those affected by the ongoing conflict. Photo by: Adam Brown / Crown Copyright

Today, the United Kingdom, Germany, Kuwait and the United Nations jointly host a conference in London for supporting Syria and the region. Above all, the conference is an opportunity to raise funds to help the millions in Syria and the region whose lives have been shattered by the war in Syria.

With the need for aid in Syria and the region now higher than even before, donors are being asked to give even more generously than before. And the London conference looks set to produce outstanding pledges, exceeding those at previous conferences for Syria, held in Kuwait in 2015 and 2014.

This is welcome. But beyond the headline figures of financial pledges, the conference is also an important opportunity to transform the way that aid for Syrians and the region is provided.

Great needs

Nearly five years since the start of the uprising and conflict in Syria, its destructive impact continues to grow. Some 6.6 million Syrians have been displaced within the country. Around 4.3 million Syrians have fled abroad. Of these, most are living in Syria’s neighbors — some 2.5 million in Turkey, 1.1 million in Lebanon, 635,000 in Jordan, and 245,000 in Iraq. Their needs — housing, education, health care, jobs — have not dwindled. And the needs of the host communities and countries are undiminished.

It is these pressures that led many refugees last year to take their chance to travel on to Europe and elsewhere, when restrictions were eased in Turkey and some European countries. And today refugees continue to seek to reach Europe, exposing themselves to the risks of the journey across the Mediterranean.

In response to this situation, the United Nations and its partners have strived to develop a concerted and effective aid response. Building on previous years, the two framework plans for aid in 2016 are the Regional Refugee and Resilience Plan and the Syria Humanitarian Response Plan. To fund these fully will require some $8 billion — $3.2 billion for aid in Syria, and $4.8 billion for aid in the neighboring countries affected by the conflict.

And opportunities

Everyone must hope that the London conference will go as far as it can to meet those targets — narrowing the gap between needs and pledges (which last year was almost half of the total sought).

Beyond this, however, the conference is an opportunity for much more. In particular it is an opportunity to further bring together humanitarian and development aid in response to the Syria crisis — so that as one they reinforce the people and institutions that they seek to help, building their resilience and capacity to cope.

To do this requires lowering unhelpful barriers between humanitarian and development financing, so that money can be invested in programs and projects that deliver the services that people need, not just temporarily, but sustainably and continuously. It means providing multi-year financing for projects. And it means mobilizing the private sector better, to bring its energies and capabilities to bear on the vast challenge. In short, it means taking the steps called for in the resilience agenda that regional governments, donors and aid organizations committed to in November last year.

Coordination will be more important than ever to ensure that pledges of funding materialize, that crucial immediate needs continue to be met, and that donor funds have lasting impact.

The London conference is also an opportunity to push ahead with innovative measures to share with the refugee hosting countries the financial and economic burdens. Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and Iraq are middle-income countries; but they need help commensurate with the burden they have taken on. Concrete measures are needed to address employment, financing and trade issues in ways that are transparent, consistent and equitable.

Those measures may be seen as a “grand accord” about the architecture of aid in response to the Syria crisis. But they also stand to be an example of how the world can overcome the funding gap for humanitarian action globally, which has now reached an estimated $15 billion.

With the approach of the World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul in May, discussion has been growing about the opportunity to do things differently and better — for example through the use of grants and loans for countries hosting refugees, by mobilizing new sources of finance for aid, and by better engaging the private sector.

The London conference — and how it is acted on during the coming months — is an opportunity to demonstrate how the world can move forward into a new era of more effective responses to protracted humanitarian and development crises.

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About the author

  • Gustavo Gonzalez

    For more than 20 years, Gustavo has been working in crisis and post-crisis settings, on behalf of a range of international and U.N. organizations. He was appointed UNDP subregional development coordinator, covering Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Egypt, Turkey and Jordan in November 2013. He heads UNDP’s Sub-Regional Facility for the Development Response to the Syrian Crisis located in Amman.