International donors on Thursday pledged nearly $7 billion in aid for 2019 for civilians caught up in Syria’s bloody civil war but the total fell short of what the UN says is needed. EU Humanitarian Commissioner Christos Stylianides announced the total at the end of a three-day conference of 80 countries and organisations in Brussels, on the eve of the eighth anniversary of the start of the conflict. The European Union led the pledges with two billion euros, but the conference failed to drum up the $9 billion the United Nations said was needed to help the millions of Syrians forced to flee the country as well as those facing a humanitarian crisis at home. European powers reiterated that progress on a UN led peace process must come before they will release funds to rebuild Syria — though they have dropped their insistence that President Bashar al-Assad must go. Despite the shortfall, UN aid chief Mark Lowcock said he was “very pleased with the outcome” but stressed that only a political solution could end the misery endured by Syrians as a result of the war. Before the conference the UN estimated that $5.5 billion (4.4 billion euros) was needed to help the approximately 5.6 million Syrians forced to flee their country, mostly to Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan. A further $3.3 billion is needed for populations inside Syria facing a humanitarian situation, described by the Medecins du Monde aid agency as “unsustainable”. The UN describes the crisis in Syria as “staggering”, with 11.7 million people in need of some form of humanitarian aid, 6.2 million people internally displaced and 83 percent of Syrians living below the poverty line. Published in Daily Times, March 15th 2019.