Donors meeting in Kuwait have pledged nearly $2.4bn in humanitarian aid for victims of the Syrian war, which the UN chief says has left half the population in need of urgent help.
Millions of Syrians have been driven from their homes as a result of the crisis, now in its third year, and getting aid to many of those in need remains a challenge because they remain trapped in communities besieged by the fighting.
Delegates from nearly 70 nations and 24 international organisations gathered on Wednesday for the one-day event chaired by Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary-general.
The second International Humanitarian Pledging Conference for Syria had gathered almost $2.4bn by mid-day as the UN sought to raise an unprecedented $6.5bn, the largest ever in the organisation’s history for a single humanitarian emergency.
“Half of the total population of Syrian people, nearly 9.3 million individuals urgently need humanitarian aid,” Ban told participants, pointing out that more than three million people have fled.
“I am especially concerned about reports of starvation” in Syria.
The host country led the donations with a pledge for $500m announced by the emir of Kuwait, Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmed al-Sabah, at the opening of the conference.
The US promised $380m, but warned that international efforts to ease the suffering of Syrians will fail if President Bashar al-Assad refused to let humanitarian assistance reach the people who need it.
At the first donors’ conference in Kuwait last January, participating nations pledged $1.5bn, 75 percent of which was delivered, according to a Kuwaiti official.
Saudi Arabia said it will give $60m in supplementary aid, so did neighbouring Qatar, both of which are strong backers of the rebellion against Assad’s regime.
Britain pledged 100 million pounds ($164m).
The country’s former prime minister, Gordon Brown, who is the UN’s envoy for education, said the schooling of Syria’s children was as important as delivering food and medicine to refugees.
He told Al Jazeera about a UN plan to educate 400,000 Syrian children.
“There are children on the streets, there are children begging, in child labour, turning to violence,” Brown said.
“Unless we do something about this we have got a huge social problem with dislocation in Lebanon and other areas where refugees are based.
The Kuwait meeting took place a week before peace talks on Syria are due to be held in Switzerland.
The UN is looking for $2.3bn to support 9.3 million people inside Syria and $4.2bn for Syrian refugees, expected to nearly double to 4.1 million by the end of 2014.
Rights and aid groups said this week that urgent funds were needed.
“The continuing violence in Syria has sparked one of the biggest humanitarian crises in recent history,” Amnesty International, the UK-based human-rights organisation, said in a statement on Tuesday in advance of the Kuwait conference.
“The world’s response to the Syria crisis so far has been woefully inadequate.”
Amnesty International said the world community must act to end the suffering of Syrian civilians and called on the Syrian government to lift blockades on the civilian population in opposition-held towns and areas.