International donors have pledged $7.7bn in humanitarian aid for war-ravaged Syria at a virtual conference hosted by the United Nations and the European Union.

While less than the almost $10bn sought by UN agencies, the funding promises on Tuesday were higher than expected, given the economic shock of the coronavirus pandemic and shortfalls in other aid appeals, notably for Yemen earlier this month.

“We recognise that the circumstances are very unusual, it is a difficult moment in every country to find the resources necessary to relieve the suffering of the Syrian people,” UN aid chief Mark Lowcock said after the conference by some 60 governments and non-official agencies. 

Pledges came from countries including Germany, which offered 1.58 billion euros ($1.78bn), in what Berlin said was the single biggest country donation, and Qatar, which promised $100m.

“We have today expressed solidarity with the Syrian people, not only with words, but with concrete pledges of support that will make a difference for millions of people,” EU Crisis Management Commissioner Janez Lenarcic said.

The money pledged will be used to finance food, medical aid and schooling for the millions of Syrians displaced or forced into exile – many of whom are living with food insecurity.

However, aid group Oxfam said the sum was “simply not enough”.

“It is shocking that the international community has failed to recognise the urgency of the situation,” Marta Lorenzo, Oxfam’s Middle East and North Africa regional director, said in a statement.

Now in its tenth year, the war in Syria has killed hundreds of thousands of people and displaced millions, sparking a major refugee exodus. Recently, the humanitarian crisis has been exacerbated by soaring food prices and the coronavirus crisis. 

The UN, which last year raised $7bn, said this year it needs $3.8bn for aid inside Syria.

Some 11 million people require help and protection in Syria, with more than 9.3 million of them lacking adequate food.

Another $6bn is sought to help the 6.6 million Syrians who have fled, in what is the world’s biggest refugee crisis.

Lebanese Prime Minister Hassan Diab said the cost to his country for hosting more than one million Syrian refugees has exceeded $40bn since the conflict began in March 2011 and he warned that the situation is getting worse amid an economic crisis.

Diab called on the UN, the EU and friendly nations to “shield Lebanon from the negative repercussions” of sanctions, such as those imposed on Syria by US President Donald Trump’s administration in mid-June. 

UN officials will still press for more pledges throughout the year, and have time as the money is split between 2020 and 2021.

UN Resident Coordinator and Humanitarian Coordinator for Syria Imran Riza, speaking from Qamishli in northern Syria, underscored the problems faced by Syrians affected by the long-running conflict. 

“We are on the cusp of all these multiple crises,” Riza said.

“You see kids that are clearly now getting malnourished. You are seeing levels of malnutrition that we have never seen in the last nine years and this gets worse and worse if you don’t take action right now.” 

Adding to Syrians’ hardship, an economic slump and COVID-19 lockdown have pushed food prices more than 200 percent higher in less than a year, according to the World Food Programme (WFP). 

According to a tally by Johns Hopkins University, there have only been 269 confirmed coronavirus cases, but the World Health Organization (WHO) has warned the real situation is probably far worse and the number of infections likely to accelerate.

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