KUWAIT CITY - Donors meeting in Kuwait Wednesday pledged more than $2.4 billion in humanitarian aid for victims of the Syrian war, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon announced.
“More than $2.4 billion has been pledged at the conference,” Ban said at the conclusion of the meeting that aimed to raise an unprecedented $6.5 billion.
The meeting comes just a week before the so-called ‘Geneva II’ peace meeting aimed at finding a political solution to the 34-month conflict that has claimed more than 130,000 lives and displaced millions of people. Delegates from nearly 70 nations and 24 international organisations are attended the one-day event chaired by UN chief Ban Ki-moon.
“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, he said. The host country led the donations with a pledge for $500 million announced by the emir of Kuwait, Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmed al-Sabah, at the opening of the conference.
US State Secretary John Kerry announced a supplementary aid package of $380 million, bringing the total US contribution to $1.7 billion.
Oil-rich Saudi Arabia said it will give $60 million in supplementary aid, as did neighbouring energy-rich Qatar. Both are strong backers of the rebellion against President Bashar al-Assad.
Britain pledged 100 million pounds ($164 million), Japan $120 million, Norway $75 million, Italy $51 million, Denmark 26.8 million euros ($36.5 million)and Germany $41 million. Other countries pledged smaller amounts.
On Tuesday, the European Union offered an extra 165 million euros ($225 million), according to EU Aid Commissioner Kristalina Georgieva, raising its total contributions to 2.0 billion euros ($2.74 billion). “We see the humanitarian situation going from bad to worse, we have seen no improvement,” Georgieva said of the conflict.
Charity organisations meeting in Kuwait on the eve of the conference also pledged $400 million of aid.
With fighting s intense as ever and the prospects of a negotiated solution dim, rights and aid groups say urgent funds are needed. “The continuing violence in Syria has sparked one of the biggest humanitarian crises in recent history,” Amnesty International said Tuesday. “The world’s response to the Syria crisis so far has been woefully inadequate,” Amnesty said, ahead of Wednesday’s meeting. UN Emergency Relief Coordinator Valerie Amos said Wednesday that around 245,000 Syrians are living in towns and cities under siege and facing extreme hardships, including food shortages.
 “I am deeply troubled by the persistent reports of people running out of food in those besieged communities, where some 245,000 people live,” Amos said. The UN is looking for $2.3 billion to support 9.3 million people inside Syria and $4.2 billion for refugees, expected to nearly double to 4.1 million by year’s end.
The UN has described the $6.5 billion appeal as the largest ever in its history for a single humanitarian emergency. In a research released Wednesday, aid group Oxfam said Russia, Japan and South Korea contributed much less than their fair share to the Syrian crisis.
According to aid agencies, 10.5 million Syrians are food insecure, more than a million children under five suffer from acute or severe malnutrition, about half the population has no access to adequate water sources or sanitation and 8.6 million have insufficient access to healthcare.
Lebanon is currently home to the largest number of refugees with 905,000, followed by Jordan with 575,000, Turkey with 562,000, Iraq with 216,000 and Egypt with 145,000.
By the end of 2014, these numbers are estimated to rise to 1.65 million in Lebanon, 800,000 in Jordan, 1.0 million in Turkey, 400,000 in Iraq and 250,000 in Egypt.
Meanwhile, Western intelligence officials have visited Syria to discuss security cooperation with the regime, its deputy foreign minister told the BBC as the West worries about extremists among the Syrian opposition.
Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad told the BBC that the visits to Damascus pointed to a “schism” between what Western politicians were saying about President Bashar al-Assad’s regime and what Western security services were doing in practice. Separately the Wall Street Journal newspaper reported that British, German, French and Spanish agencies have been speaking to Assad regime officials since mid-2013. Western governments have backed the opposition fighting to topple Assad but are increasingly concerned about the influence jihadist groups are wielding in Syria’s nearly three-year-old civil war.
They are also worried about fighters from their countries travelling to Syria to join militants.
Mekdad said Western agencies were asking for security cooperation. “I would not specify but many of them have visited Damascus, yes,” Mekdad said in a broadcast aired Tuesday night.
“When these countries ask for security cooperation, then it seems to me there is a schism between the political and security leadership. “Many of these countries have contacted us to coordinate security measures.”
Last month the United States and Britain suspended their non-lethal aid to the opposition, fearing the growing influence of radicals in the conflict.
Britain’s Foreign Office refused to comment on what Mekdad said, saying it does not comment on intelligence matters.

Meanwhile, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad met the foreign minister of Iran, a key ally of his regime, in Damascus on Wednesday, state news agency SANA said.
“President Assad is meeting Mohammad Javad Zarif, foreign minister of the Islamic Republic of Iran, and his delegation,” Syria’s SANA reported.
Zarif arrived from Jordan, where he had been as part of a regional tour that also included a visit to Lebanon on Monday.
His meeting with Assad comes less than a week before the so-called Geneva II peace conference, which is aimed at ending the conflict in Syria that has killed 130,000 people in nearly three years.