Donors including the United States and wealthy Gulf Arab countries pledged $1 billion (£610 million) on Wednesday (January 15) for U.N. humanitarian efforts in Syria.

Kuwait's emir, Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmed al-Sabah, promised $500 million in fresh assistance, while the United States announced a contribution of $380 million. Qatar and Saudi Arabia pledged $60 million each.

The promises were announced at an international donor conference in Kuwait intended to help the United Nations reach a $6.5 billion aid target for the crisis in 2014.

The appeal launched last month is the largest in the history of the United Nations which estimates that the conflict has rolled back human development gains in Syria by 35 years, with half the population now living in poverty.

The $1.5 billion pledged via the United Nations at a similar meeting last year in Kuwait was used in Syria and surrounding countries to provide food rations, medicine, drinking water and shelters. The largest donations at that conference came from Gulf Arab governments.

The U.N. Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, who is chairing the Kuwait conference, said the fighting has set back Syria years, even decades. Ban has previously expressed regret that not all the promised donations have been received from the last meeting, with 20-30 percent still lacking.

The U.N.'s World Food Programme (WFP) said on Tuesday it had delivered rations to a record 3.8 million people in Syria in December, but civilians in eastern provinces and besieged towns near the capital remain out of reach.

The agency voiced concern at reports of malnutrition in besieged areas, especially of children caught up in the nearly three-year-old conflict, and called for greater access. The WFP says it needs to raise $35 million every week to meet the food needs of people both inside Syria and in neighbouring countries.

Presented by Adam Justice