BRUSSELS, March 30: Dozens of nations and international organisations were holding virtual talks on Tuesday to help tackle the humanitarian crisis deepening in Syria and neighbouring countries as the civil war there entered its 11th year without a political solution in sight.

The annual pledging event is co-hosted by the United Nations and the European Union. “The overarching objective of the Brussels Conferences is to continue supporting the Syrian people and mobilise the international community in support of a comprehensive and credible political solution to the Syria conflict,” the organisers said.

The decade of bloodshed in Syria has killed more than a half million people and sparked a refugee exodus that has destabilised neighbouring countries and impacted Europe.

According to the UN, 13.4 million people in Syria, more than half the country’s pre-war population, need assistance. That’s a 20 per cent increase from last year.

Amid the coronavirus pandemic, the humanitarian situation has worsened. The local currency has crashed and food prices have soared  increasing by 222 per cent from last year. Nine out of 10 people live below the poverty line and in northwestern Syria, an area that is held by the rebels, close to three-quarters of the 4.3 million residents are food insecure.

“It has been 10 years of despair and disaster for Syrians,” UN humanitarian chief Mark Lowcock said. “Now, plummeting living conditions, economic decline and COVID-19 results in more hunger, malnutrition and disease. There is less fighting, but no peace dividend.”

The UN and other aid groups are seeking more than USD 4 billion for aid within Syria at this year’s conference, their biggest appeal yet. Another USD 5.8 billion are requested for nearly 6 million Syrian refugees who fled their homeland.

Over the years, pledges have typically fallen short. The humanitarian appeal for 2020 was 45 per cent below its USD 3.82 billion target, nearly a 14 per cent drop from the year before. – AP