Plenty of money for weapons in Syria, little for refugees

Oxfam reports that many countries are far short of their expected humanitarian contributions for Syria, with Russia and Qatar providing only 3 percent.

Mandel Ngan/AP/File
This July 18, 2013 file photo shows an aerial view of the Zaatari refugee camp near the Jordanian city of Mafraq, near the Jordanian-Syrian border.

The countries arming combatants in the Syrian conflict are among the least generous with humanitarian aid donations, according to a new study by Oxfam.

Throughout the conflict both Russia and Qatar have reportedly provided arms for opposing sides of the conflict – Russia to the government, Qatar to Islamist rebel factions. But international aid agency Oxfam found that the two have committed just 3 percent each of their fair share to humanitarian appeals for Syria, measured as a proportion of national income and overall wealth.

(A table summarizing Oxfam's findings is at the bottom of this story).

Qatar has promised to channel $2.8 million in humanitarian aid through the UN, while Oxfam estimates its fair share at $78.7 million. Russia has promised $17.8 million in humanitarian aid, against a fair share calculation of $620 million.

The US, which also sends lethal aid to Syrian rebels, has committed $818 million in humanitarian assistance for Syrians, 63 percent of its fair share calculation. The US is the single largest provider of humanitarian assistance. France, a vocal US ally in its opposition to the Syrian government, has pledged $108 million, 47 percent of its fair share total.

But some countries have given far more than their fair share: Britain has committed 154 percent of their share, Saudi Arabia 187 percent, and Kuwait 461 percent, according to the study.

“The Syrian crisis has reached epic proportions but the international humanitarian response is a far cry from what is needed. We see in our daily work the desperate needs of Syrians and Palestinians fleeing from the conflict, living in refugee camps or scattered in the host communities of neighboring countries,” said Oxfam's Karl Schembri.

Oxfam has been experiencing funding problems of its own. The group is seeking to raise $48.9 million for health and sanitation programs in Syria's neighbors, where more than 2 million refugees have fled, but the appeal remains less than 40 percent funded.

Meanwhile, the UN’s much larger Syria appeal has received less than half of its $5 billion target.

Oxfam assessed the sums sought by mainstream humanitarian organization, using the 2013 UN Syria appeals and those of the International Committee of the Red Cross and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. It assessed countries' contributions based on the relative wealth and national income of the big traditional donor countries. 

The report comes ahead of a meeting of international donors next Wednesday in New York.

“Donors must make real commitments at next week's meeting on Syria and ensure that the money is delivered as soon as possible. This is not the time for pledges. The situation demands committed funds in order to save lives," said Oxfam.

The scale of the crisis and the funding shortfalls have left some of the most vulnerable refugees inside Syria and in neighboring countries relying on support from host communities and informal aid networks.

“There are millions in need of aid inside Syria whom we can't reach, and thousands living outside refugee camps in Lebanon and Jordan whose savings have dried up and cannot afford to pay rent. By the end of the year we expect half of the population of Syria to be in need of aid," said Oxfam.

Country Total share contributed      Fair share     Pct. of fair share contributed
United States     $818.6 M     $1296.6 M     63 %
Saudi Arabia     $373 M     $200 M     187 %
Kuwait     $324.1 M     $70.2 M     461 %
United Kingdom     $312.1 M     $202 M     154 %
Germany     $293.3 M     $296     99 %
France     $108.7 M     $230.9 M     47 %
Denmark     $64.3 M     $28 M     230 %
Norway     $49 M     $36.7 M     134 %
United Arab Emirates      $47.3 M     $143.3 M     33 %
Russian Federation     $18 M     $620 M     3 %
Qatar     $2.7 M     $78.7     3 %
Republic of Korea     $1.4 M     $89.9 M     2 %
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