BEIRUT -- Amid dire warnings that funds are running low to care for victims of the Syrian conflict, the United Nations said Wednesday that donors had pledged about $1.5 billion to help war-battered Syrians, exceeding the U.N.’s target appeal.
“The situation in Syria is catastrophic and getting worse by the day,” U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told a major donor conference in Kuwait.
The cash is meant to assist Syrian civilians during the next six months, but officials say much of it could be used up before then if the humanitarian scenario in the country continues to decline.
The donors' gathering in Kuwait came a day after the latest reported atrocity in Syria: the discovery of the bodies of dozens of men along a muddy canal in the northern city of Aleppo, all apparently victims of extrajudicial execution. As is usually the case in Syria, each side blamed the other for the mass killing.
After the gruesome reports from Aleppo, U.N. peace envoy Lakhdar Brahimi told the U.N. Security Council that Syria's conflict had reached "unprecedented levels of horror."
According to U.N. figures, about 4 million Syrians are in need of humanitarian assistance, among them more 2 million forced from their homes and now living without basic services. At least 700,000 more have left the country, mostly settling in neighboring Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan and Iraq. The war has destroyed schools, hospitals and shops, damaged much of the nation’s public infrastructure and battered the vital agricultural sector.
Among those attending the conference in Kuwait were Lebanese President Michel Suleiman and Jordanian King Abdullah II, whose nations are reeling from the strain of hosting hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees.
“We have exhausted our resources,” the Jordanian king told participants.
Three Persian Gulf nations -- Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates -- each pledged $300 million to the Syrian relief cause, providing the bulk of the new donations Wednesday.
A day earlier, the Obama administration approved an additional $155 million in humanitarian assistance for Syrians, bringing total U.S. aid to $365 million. Among other things, the White House said, the money will pay for food, clean water, clothing, blankets and field hospitals.
Syrians remaining in the war-ravaged nation have complained that aid has been slow to arrive, especially to rebel-held zones where access can be difficult and dangerous. Thousands of displaced people have gathered in makeshift camps along Syria's border with Turkey, scrambling for shelter, food and other basic needs as winter has closed in.
Some Syrian opposition groups called on the U.N. to ensure that the aid is not funneled through the Syrian government or groups linked to the regime. The U.N. says it works through nongovernmental humanitarian partners and does not turn aid money over to Syrian authorities.
“Not one dollar is handed over to the Syrian government,” John Ging, operations director for the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, told reporters last week in Beirut after visiting Syria with other U.N. officials.
The almost two-year Syrian conflict has left more than 60,000 dead, according to U.N. estimates. Armed rebels are seeking to oust the government of President Bashar Assad.