Brussels: International donors raised $4.4 billion in emergency aid for Syria and its neighbours on Wednesday, but the total fell well short of the UN target for 2018 after the United States failed to submit a pledge.
Humanitarian agencies also pleaded for peace before the Syrian military and its Russian and Iranian backers turn their firepower on the rebel-controlled Syrian city of Idlib, warning of civilian suffering on a greater scale than during the siege of Aleppo last year.
"What I fear is a very cruel battle engulfing Idlib. We cannot accept the war moves towards what is essentially a gigantic refugee camp," Jan Egeland, head of the Norwegian Refugee Council and a senior UN adviser on Syria, said of the northwestern Idlib region.
"There have to be talks to spare the civilians from the fighting," he said, adding that 2.5 million people were at risk.
Britain and Germany offered new money for refugees at the conference, which brought together some 85 governments and aid groups.
But pledges were less than the $6 billion gathered for 2017 as US President Donald Trump cuts foreign aid.
"A number of important donors have not yet been in a position to confirm their financing for 2018 because of the status of their internal budgetary discussions," UN Emergency Relief Coordinator Mark Lowcock told a news conference.
"That includes the United States, which has been providing more than $1 billion a year to Syria and the region in recent years," he said.
While the United Nations said more money may still come in, the US government is reviewing its Syria policy, including its humanitarian support, and Trump has questioned the value of such aid as he pursues his "America First" agenda.
The European Union, which along with the United States is the world's biggest aid donor, is also struggling to agree with its member governments a three billion euro ($3.66 billion) package for refugees in Turkey.
"The war hasn't stopped, people are still being bombed and live in refugee camps. The pledges today show that the conditions for Syrians will only get worse in the future," said Rouba Mhaissen, a Syrian-Lebanese activist working for refugees.
Humanitarian aid is also set to go to Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and other countries overwhelmed with some six million Syrian refugees.
Refugees in Lebanon makes up a quarter of the country's population, the United Nations says.
The failure to reach the UN goal at the pledging conference showed the challenge for Syria as other conflicts, from Afghanistan to Myanmar, also demand attention and money.
Achim Steiner, head of the U.N. Development Programme, told Reuters there was a risk of so-called donor fatigue because of the sheer length of the multi-sided war.
"It is a natural phenomenon as the conflict continues year after year," Steiner said.
"In 2018, the humanitarian drama ... is actually at its peak."
The international community's split over Syria was also highlighted by the fact that Damascus was not taking part in the conference organised by the EU.
Russia sent no top state officials and was only represented by its EU ambassador.
The envoy, Vladimir Chizhov, challenged the EU's line that the West would only focus on humanitarian assistance but provide no money for reconstruction of Syria for as long as Assad does not share power with the opposition.
"It's high time the international community takes bold decisions to help Syria and its people get their country back together, build peace and reconstruction," Chizhov said.
But the West has ruled that out, seeing money as its best leverage to try force Assad into peace talks, so far, in vain.