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Kuwait Two

January 19th, 2014

I am back in Kuwait after a year of the conflict in Syria going terribly wrong. Since the first humanitarian fundraising conference took place here in early 2013, the number of Syrians in need of assistance has quadrupled, the refugees in the neighbouring countries have increased five times, and, with the health system in shambles, polio has returned. In response, we in the European Commission delivered seven-fold on our first Kuwait pledge – $1 billion against our $136 million commitment. Sadly, even with contributions at record levels we are not nearly close to meeting the needs, because of the enormity of the crisis, but also because access inside Syria over this last year has worsened.

The “Kuwait Two” conference raised impressive amounts – pledges of nearly $2.5 billion were made, $1 billion more than the year before. The host, Kuwait, was again very generous, commit-ting $500 million in aid to the Syrian people. The EU’s contribution to that total was a mighty $753 million. Since the crisis began, Europe has given $3.5 billion in aid. The sums are mind-boggling – and only to cover 40 % of UN assessment of the needs for 2014. And they would mean nothing to people trapped between fighting lines, besieged and effectively held hostage – unless those who fight allow more access for humanitarian workers and the aid they provide.

So far, access has been denied for 250,000 people, and very restricted for 2,5 million more. That will only change if we all maintain pressure on the regime and opposition groups to respect the UN Security Council Presidential Statement of last October – pressure to stop bombing schools and hospitals, stop shooting humanitarians, give safe passage to humanitarian convoys.

I pray that will be the case. Next Wednesday the so-called “Geneva Two” talks will begin – present-ing a real opportunity for all sides to begin the hard task of reaching a political settlement. The UN Secretary General, who co-hosted the pledging conference in Kuwait, told me he was realistic about the tough prospects of the talks – but also determined to do everything possible to support them.

From history we know that every war has an end, and a political settlement of sort to bring closure. We know this will inevitably happen with the Syrian war – what we don’t know is how many more lives have to be destroyed before the end of this madness.

The sooner we find the answer to this question – the better, so I pray for success of the “Geneva Two” talks. It will mean that at “Kuwait Three” in a year’s time, the international community can focus on helping Syria for the longer term: with rebuilding and recovery.

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