LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Syrian families are making “terrible sacrifices” to survive, marrying off young girls and sending children to work, aid agencies said ahead of the third global conference to raise funds for victims of the world’s biggest humanitarian crisis.
Nearly 80 governments and dozens of aid agencies will meet in Kuwait on Tuesday for a summit led by the United Nations which is hoping for major pledges towards an $8.4 billion appeal for Syria.
Although the response to the first conference in 2013 exceeded the $1.5 billion requested, last year’s conference only secured pledges of $2.4 billion towards a $6.5 billion appeal.
“It is deplorable that the world appears to have lost interest in Syria,” said Barry Andrews, head of aid agency GOAL.
“The Syrian conflict ... is the biggest humanitarian catastrophe since the Second World War. Yet neighboring countries and aid agencies are being left to bear the brunt of the aid effort.”
As the crisis enters its fifth year, some 12.2 million people inside Syria are in desperate need of humanitarian assistance along with more than 3.9 million Syrians who have fled to neighboring countries.
“Wealthy donor countries ... must dig deeper into their pockets ... than they did last year - failure to do so will have a devastating effect on millions of civilians in Syria and its neighboring countries,” aid agency Oxfam said.
“The number of people in need of assistance in Syria and beyond continues to rise dramatically, while the funding to help them is not keeping up with that need.”
The International Red Cross predicted “at least another five years of intense humanitarian activity” would be needed.
Andy Baker, head of Oxfam’s Syria crisis response, said Syrian families were being forced to take desperate measures. Some were marrying off daughters at 13 or 14 — both for economic reasons and to protect them from the risk of sexual assault.
Child labour is also a problem; adult refugees are banned from working in host countries, but “children are more tolerated”, Baker said.
The World Food Programme said many children born into the conflict had spent the critical first 1,000 days of their lives without adequate food and nutrients.
“We must not lose a whole generation to war,” added WFP chief Ertharin Cousin who is attending the conference.
Save the Children said in a report on Monday that school enrolment in Syria had halved.
A quarter of school buildings have been destroyed, and many parents are “too frightened to send their kids to school”, the agency’s spokeswoman Caroline Anning added.
Oxfam’s Baker said it was hard to predict what the big players in Kuwait would pledge.
The aid agency has calculated that nearly half the world’s top donors did not give their fair share of aid in 2014 based on the size of their economies.
Kuwait, the UAE, Norway, Britain and Germany gave more than their fair share, Oxfam said, but Russia, Australia and Japan gave less than 30 percent of what they should have.
Reporting By Joseph D'Urso; Editing by Emma Batha