The Norwegian government has decided to donate another NOK 460 million in humanitarian aid to Syria, an amount that Foreign Minister Børge Brende says is one of the country’s largest single amounts of foreign aid ever. He hopes it will encourage other countries to donate generously as well, to help ease the worst humanitarian crisis in decades.
The money will be distributed both within Syria and its closest neighbours, Jordan and Lebanon, which have been dealing with staggering amounts of Syrian refugees streaming over the borders. Syria’s bloody civil war has sent more than 2 million desperate men, women and children into both Jordan and Lebanon along with Turkey, which are all struggling to meet their demands for help.
“This is one of the biggest single contributions Norway has made throughout its history,” Brende told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) Wednesday. “It’s because we now face the biggest humanitarian crisis in our century, and it’s growing day by day.”
Norway donated NOK 635 million in humanitarian aid to the victims of the Syrian conflict last year and had donated a total of NOK 850 million since the civil war broke out. The new amount announced Wednesday brings Norway’s aid level up to NOK 1.3 billion (USD 213 million).
Pressuring Syrian authorities from Kuwait
Brende was in Kuwait on Wednesday to attend the second international conference of donor countries for Syria. The conference was being held in cooperation with the United Nations and led by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. Brende said he intended to talk with his counterparts from Russia and Iran in the hopes they can put pressure on Syrian authorities to allow food, drinking water and medicine to get through to those who need it.
“I’m not especially optimistic that we’ll get access to those who need help (within Syria), but we’ll try,” Brende told NRK. “It’s completely unacceptable and a violation of basic humanitarian principles when aid isn’t allowed in.”
It’s believed that more than 130,000 people have been killed since the civil war began in Syria in 2011, and more than 9 million Syrian civilians now need aid. Norway’s foreign ministry estimated that around 2.3 million of them are refugees and around 6.5 million have been forced from their homes within Syria.
Norway already is among the world’s biggest donors of foreign aid in connection with the conflict in Syria and also is involved in transporting chemical weapons out of Syria. Norway was initially asked to take in the weapons and destroy them on Norwegian soil, but the government turned down the request on the grounds Norway lacked the experience to do so.
Instead, the Norwegian government and merchant marine are providing vessels, along with Denmark and the US, to carry the weapons out of Syria and destroy them on board. The most dangerous ones will be destroyed on board an American containership, while Norway is standing by with vessels in the Mediterranean.
“Norway always steps in and takes a broad perspective,” Sigrid Kaag, a career diplomat from the Netherands who’s in charge of the UN’s program to transport the weapons, told newspaper Aftenposten this week. She made it clear she was grateful for Norway’s participation.
“The country reported for duty early in the process and made a concrete proposal,” Kaag told Aftenposten. “Norway conducts itself in a respectful manner and is a very constructive contributor.”
‘Enormous’ need for help
Now Brende aims to set an example as a contributor to relief efforts for the Syrian civilian population. “The need for help is enormous,” Brende said. “It’s important that the global community at the conference in Kuwait mobilizes the necessary resources to cover the UN’s emergency appeals.”
He also called for an end to the civil war, claiming there was a “heavy responsibility” for that on the participants in next week’s conference in Montreux, where efforts will be made to find a political solution to the conflict.