KUWAIT CITY - Donors meeting in Kuwait Wednesday pledged nearly US$1.3 billion (S$1.7 billion) in humanitarian aid for victims of the Syrian war, which the UN chief said had left half the population in need of urgent help.
The meeting comes just a week before the so-called 'Geneva II' peace meeting aimed at finding a political solution to the 34-month conflict that has claimed 130,000 lives.
Delegates from nearly 70 nations and 24 international organisations gathered for the one-day event chaired by UN chief Ban Ki-moon.
The meeting had gathered some US$1.3 billion by midday as the UN sought to raise an unprecedented US$6.5 billion.
"Half of the total population of Syrian people, nearly 9.3 million individuals urgently need humanitarian aid," Ban told participants, pointing out that more than three million people have fled.
"I am especially concerned about reports of starvation," in Syria, he said.
The host country led the donations with a pledge for US$500 million announced by the emir of Kuwait, Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmed al-Sabah at the opening of the conference.
US State Secretary John Kerry announced a supplementary aid package of $380 million, bringing the total US humanitarian aid to Syria to US$1.7 billion.
"I am proud that the United States is the leading donor of humanitarian aid," Kerry told the conference, pointing out that "Syria's civil war is not simply Syria's problems."
Oil-rich Saudi Arabia said it will give US$60 million in supplementary aid, so did neighbouring energy-rich Qatar, both of which are strong backers of the rebellion against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.
Britain pledged 100 million pounds (US$164 million), Norway US$75 million, Denmark 26.8 million euros (US$36.5 million)and Iraq announced an aid package of $13 million.
The European Union offered on Tuesday an extra 165 million euros (US$225 million) of aid, according to EU Aid Commissioner Kristalina Georgieva, raising the union's total contributions to 2.0 billion euros (US$2.74 billion).
"We see the humanitarian situation going from bad to worse, we have seen no improvement," Georgieva said of the conflict, which is thought to have killed more than 130,000 people.
With fighting on the ground as intense as ever and the prospects of a negotiated solution still dim, rights and aid groups said urgent funds were needed.
"The continuing violence in Syria has sparked one of the biggest humanitarian crises in recent history," Amnesty International said in a statement Tuesday.
"The world's response to the Syria crisis so far has been woefully inadequate," Amnesty said, ahead of the Second International Humanitarian Pledging Conference for Syria.
The UN is looking for US$2.3 billion to support 9.3 million people inside Syria and US$4.2 billion for Syrian refugees, expected to nearly double to 4.1 million by year's end.
The UN has described the US$6.5 billion Syria appeal as the largest ever in its history for a single humanitarian emergency.
At the first donors' conference in Kuwait last January, participating nations pledge US$1.5 billion, 75 per cent of which was delivered, according to a Kuwaiti official.
In a research released Wednesday, Aid group Oxfam said Russia, Japan and South Korea contributed much less than their fair share to the Syrian crisis.
According to aid agencies, 10.5 million Syrians are food insecure, more than a million children under five suffer from acute or severe malnutrition, about half the population has no access to adequate water sources or sanitation and 8.6 million have insufficient access to healthcare.
Lebanon is currently home to the largest number of refugees with 905,000, followed by Jordan with 575,000, Turkey 562,000, Iraq 216,000 and Egypt 145,000.
By the end of 2014, these numbers are estimated to rise to 1.65 million in Lebanon, 800,000 in Jordan, 1.0 million in Turkey, 400,000 in Iraq and 250,000 in Egypt.