Making donations, not war: who's giving the most money to Syria?

4 September 2013

This article has now been updated. Please see below.

Parliament may have retreated from the prospect of military action against Syria, but today David Cameron promised that the UK would be a world leader in providing aid. He said that the government would continue to donate generously to the region, telling the House of Commons that:

"In this one we are the second largest aid donor. We have spent more than £400 million."

The second largest aid donor?

The Financial Tracking Service (FTS) logs international aid donations by country on behalf of the United Nations (UN). From its 2013 accounts, we can see that - as of today - the UK is third in the nations' league table for Syrian aid. The United States has pledged $818 million so far this year, almost a third of the total aid package; Kuwait, the next biggest donor, has funded some $324 million of assistance; the UK, with a contribution just short of $196 million, is in third place.

However, David Cameron isn't exaggerating the UK's role when he says that we're the second biggest donor. The 2013 rankings change if we include our "uncommitted pledges" (defined as "a non-binding announcement of an intended contribution). In fact, our uncommitted pledges amount to another $266 million. This is more than our current aid funding - those donations that have already been processed or that a country is legally obliged to make. 

Now, with a total donation of $462 million, we're propelled into second place in the list of donor countries. Nevertheless, for this to be the case we need to disregard the European Commission's sizeable donation (which isn't an individual state).

More than £400 million donated?

Mr Cameron claimed that the UK had donated "more than £400 million" to the relief effort. However, the Foreign Office puts the figure at £348 million

When Mr Cameron addressed MPs, the government had not yet made public its plan to provide an extra £52 million in aid. 

The UK's £400 million contribution is considerably higher than the FTS's estimate $462 million (which is equivalent to only £297 million). This is mainly because it includes what the UK contributed in 2012, as well as the money it has guaranteed so far in 2013. Technically, the £400 million has not all been "spent", as Mr Cameron claims; rather this is the sum that has been pledged and is in the pipeline.

The UK is committing funds to the largest humanitarian effort in the UN's history. The UN Refugee Agency has continued to appeal for donations as it estimates that almost two million Syrian refugees have now fled to Lebanon, Turkey and Jordon.

UPDATE (6 September 2013)

The original version of this article included the following sentence: "The Number 10 press office has confirmed that the Prime Minister misspoke, and that he likely meant to say "more than £300 million" - the number he quoted yesterday in an interview with ITV news. We're now seeking a correction of the record."

It looks like at the time of our enquiry the press office didn't have confirmation of the government's plan for an extra £52 million in aid. The article has been updated to reflect this new information.

The following sentence has also been added: "Technically, the £400 million has not all been "spent", as Mr Cameron suggests; rather this is the sum that has been pledged and is in the pipeline."

Full Fact fights bad information

Bad information ruins lives. It promotes hate, damages people’s health, and hurts democracy. You deserve better.