“On the humanitarian front, our nations agreed that we have to do even more individually and collectively to address the agony of the Syrian people. The United States is already the largest donor of humanitarian aid to the Syrian people, some $4.5 billion in aid so far.”
–President Barack Obama, news conference at G-20 summit in Antalya, Turkey, Nov. 16, 2015
The Syrian civil war and refugee crisis in Europe overshadowed the recent G-20 economic summit in Antalya, in the wake of the deadly attacks in Paris. Obama’s public statements centered on the Paris attacks, military strategies for containing the Islamic State, and the global efforts to send humanitarian aid to Syria.
For the second year, The Fact Checker joined our counterparts around the world to check claims politicians made at the summit. (We will post a round-up from this year’s G-20 Factcheckathon when it becomes available.) Is Obama’s assertion correct?
In September 2015, Secretary of State John Kerry announced the United States will give $419 million in humanitarian aid, bringing the total U.S. donation to $4.5 billion since the Syrian conflict began in 2011.
The aid supports United Nations operations and international and non-governmental humanitarian groups to Syrians who have been displaced from the country or have become refugees. Much of the latest donation will be given to groups working with refugees, Washington Post’s Carol Morello reported. The largest share of the donation will go to UN operations that provide medical care, safe drinking water, food and shelter for refugees. Nearly $2.3 billion of the U.S. humanitarian aid supports relief programs within Syria, according to the State Department.
A portion of the humanitarian aid is given to refugee-hosting countries to help them cope with the influx of Syrians entering their countries. Host communities use this money to build and maintain infrastructure, buy supplies and equipment, expand community programs, and more.
So this is a technical distinction that is not reflected in Obama’s claim that the aid goes “to the Syrian people.”
Still, the U.S. is the largest donor of humanitarian aid to Syria, as the State Department and Obama claim. A spreadsheet of funding commitments by country from 2012 to 2015, compiled by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Efforts Financial Tracking Service, confirm this comparison. The European Commission has the second highest amount of contributed and/or committed aid, at $1.8 billion. The United Kingdom has the third highest, at $1.55 billion.
The U.S. consistently has been the largest donor of humanitarian aid for the Syria conflict, using raw dollars. Of course, there are other ways to calculate the donation — as a percentage of GDP, for example. A 2013 Guardian infographic shows that while the U.S. was the largest donor in dollars ($818 million), Kuwait had the biggest donation ($324 million) as a percentage of GDP.
The most recent data show Kuwait committed, contributed or pledged $1.16 billion — making it one of the top five donors. Even with funding from the United States, the UN appeals for humanitarian aid for the Syria crisis is only about 40 percent funded, the State Department said.
The Pinocchio Test
While Obama says the humanitarian aid goes to “the Syrian people,” a portion of the aid is given to host countries so that they have enough resources to accept and support refugees. But we won’t split hairs here; the United States has been the largest donor of humanitarian aid to Syria since at least 2013. No other country comes close when comparing the actual dollars contributed, committed and/or pledged.
The Geppetto Checkmark
Send us facts to check by filling out this form