December 16, 2014

Finding $48 million in aid money

On 1st December the World Food Programme made the announcement that they were suspending their food vouchers for Syrian refugees because of a lack of money. They said the problem was both unfulfilled promises of money (in UN-speak that’s “uncommitted pledges”) and a lack of new donations. Last week, latest figures from the UN showed that the European Union hadn’t paid $48 million of its promised contribution to the Syrian crisis response. It was taking days to get a response from them on this uncommitted money until members of The Syria Campaign took action and got a response.

Here’s a screenshot of the figure last week:

48 million

And here it is now:



We had been waiting for five days for an explanation on the missing $48 million and then after launching the petition and a wave of tweets, we had a response at the highest level.

Here’s what happened:

  • When the World Food Programme made its announcement about the food vouchers, we started scrambling to find out who was breaking their promises on Syria and an organisation called Global Humanitarian Assistance who track exactly this kind of stuff said that the European Commission was behind on what they’d promised [1]

  • They pointed us at the UN’s own figures – the Financial Tracking Service (FTS), which exists to provide “raw material for advocacy” by “tracking the timeliness of donor response to urgent needs” [2]

  • After wading through the bewildering spreadsheets we had several organisations confirm that the $48 million was indeed uncommitted from the European Commission so we emailed them about it

  • After three days of no reply we chased them again and they got back saying they were checking the numbers and would get back to us in a few days

  • That didn’t seem urgent enough. If there was a question mark over a $48 million pledge to Syria we think it’d warrant quicker action – so we put the call out to everyone to help pressure the European Commission for an answer

Soon after we had a reply ensuring us that the money had been committed and that the numbers were going to be updated accordingly.

The part of the UN responsible for these numbers is funded by all of us to focus on telling us where the aid money is coming from and where it’s going [3]. For it to be so staggeringly wide of the mark at the same time that another part of the UN is begging for $64 million to feed refugees is a serious cause for concern.

With the mystery of the European Commission’s $48 million solved, we’re looking for the rest of the missing money. We can’t rely on the UN figures any more so we’re chasing up each country individually. Kuwait may still owe $182 million, Saudi Arabia $43 million and Italy $21 million [4]. We’re going to try our best to confirm the numbers and then figure out next steps.

Finally, let’s thank the European Commission. Although Europe’s resettlement of refugees is beyond pitiful, the Commission is one of the leaders in the aid response to Syria [5] – and deserve credit for it.

So if you’re on Twitter, please take a moment to send a tweet of thanks to Christos Stylianides the European Commissioner for humanitarian aid.


More Information:

[1] “Quarter of Syrian crisis funds pledged at Kuwait II not yet committed“

[2] About the Financial Tracking Service of the UN

[3] The Financial Tracking Service is part of UN OCHA’s Humanitarian Community Information Services department with a budget in 2014 of $8,036,518.

[4] Daily update by FTS on figures committed to Syria response

[5] European Commission factsheet on its contributions to the Syria crisis