- (Photo: World Vision)
The United Nations is urgently calling on the nations of the world to donate $6.5 billion this year to combat the growing humanitarian crisis in Syria, noting that this aid is the difference between life and death for millions.
"Humanitarian aid is the difference between life and death, hope and despair. It has already assisted millions of people affected by this crisis," U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said during the Second International Humanitarian Pledging Conference on Syria in Kuwait on Wednesday. "I count on you to show the Syrian people that the world is here to help."
BBC News identified this as "the U.N.'s largest ever appeal for a single issue."
Over 100,000 people have been killed in Syria since the civil war began between President Bashar al Assad and rebels seeking to forcefully remove him from power in 2011, and the U.N. estimates that 9.3 million people in the Middle Eastern country are stranded in hard-to-reach areas and in urgent need of help.
More than $2.4 billion in pledges was raised during Wednesday's conference, hosted by the Emir of Kuwait, Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmed Al-Jaber Al-Sabah.
Reuters reported that Qatar and Saudi Arabia each pledged $60 million for the cause; Britain, $165 million; the European Union, $225 million; the U.S., $380 million; and Kuwait, $500 million.
International relief and development organization Oxfam argued in a statement that despite the generous pledges, however, the donations fall short of the humanitarian need.
"While governments have pledged generously in Kuwait – particularly the U.S., the U.K. and Kuwait – it's clear that today's contribution of $2.4bn falls short of the vast humanitarian need represented by the unprecedented U.N. Syria crisis appeal," said Oxfam Syria Country Director Gareth Price-Jones. "It is vital that pledges are swiftly delivered and more governments step up. Even if the conflict were to end tomorrow Syrians will need assistance for years to come."
Despite international efforts, peace talks concerning Syria have so far been unsuccessful, though further talks on finding a solution are scheduled for next week in Switzerland.
U.N. Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Valerie Amos described the conflict as the "biggest humanitarian crisis we face today."
"We all hope that the political talks due to begin next week will deliver a positive result. In the meantime, every child, every woman, every man affected by this crisis deserves our continued support," Amos said.
Ban added that he believes the fighting has set back Syria "years, even decades," and expressed concern especially for violence committed against women and girls.
"I call for an immediate end to these abuses, which harm individuals and undermine Syria's future," the U.N. secretary-general said at the conference.
The minority Christian community in Syria has also suffered heavily, with Islamic rebel groups targeting churches and murdering followers of Christ on numerous occasions.
In one of the biggest Christian massacres in the civil war, 45 Christian civilians were murdered in Sadad in November 2013, as the entire town was destroyed and looted by Islamic militants.
Persecution watchdog group Open Doors has called on the U.S. and the world's leaders to step in the Syrian conflict and help the suffering population.
"For nearly three years, the people of war-torn Syria have experienced terrible suffering and enormous challenges," Open Doors said in November.
"In particular, the Christian community, around 8 percent of the population, is paying a high price for living in a country where the civil war has caused over 100,000 deaths and left 4.2 million homeless inside the country."
While many Christians along with other residents caught in the crossfire have been fleeing their homes, Open Doors PR and Communications Coordinator Emily Fuentes told The Christian Post in October that a number have also decided to stay and heed what they say is God's call to reach out to their Muslim neighbors despite the violent attacks.
"There are some Christians who are fleeing because they have no other choice, but there are many Christians who have really felt God's call to stay in town, even though they have been attacked and targeted because of their faith. They realize that God's using them, and [are reaching] out to their Muslim neighbors," Fuentes told CP.
António Guterres, U.N. high commissioner for Refugees, said at Wednesday's conference that Syria has gone from being the world's second largest refugee-hosting country to becoming the fastest refugee-producing country.
"It breaks my heart to see the people of Syria, who for decades generously welcomed refugees from other countries in the region, now forced into exile themselves," Guterres said.
Guterres made an appeal to all countries, not just those in the region, to keep their borders open for Syrians who are fleeing the violence and in need of protection.