US announces $50 million in earthquake aid for Syria, Turkey
WASHINGTON – The United States announced $50 million in new funding for victims of last month’s powerful earthquakes that caused billions in damage to Syria and Turkey.
An international donor conference was held in Brussels on Monday, nearly six weeks after the 7.8 and 7.5 magnitude earthquakes struck, killing more than 52,000 people across southeastern Turkey and northwestern Syria.
Donors pledged a combined $7.5 billion at the conference, which was co-hosted by the European Union and Sweden. The latest tranche of aid from the US Agency for International Development brings the total US contribution since the February 6 disaster to $235 million.
The earthquakes and their aftermath destroyed or damaged about 298,000 buildings in 11 provinces across Turkey, where the government estimates the damage will cost $104 billion. More than 1.4 million earthquake survivors are living in tents and another 34,000 are in container homes, according to Turkey’s disaster management authority, AFAD.
Flash floods last week killed at least 14 people in two of Turkey’s earthquake-hit provinces, where hundreds of thousands of earthquake survivors are sheltering in tents.
The country’s earthquake response is a test for President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, whose political future will be decided in elections scheduled for May 14. Opposition parties have blamed Erdogan’s government for lax enforcement of building standards and point to a 2018 general amnesty issued to buildings up to code. violations.
Erdogan, who has acknowledged “shortcomings” in his government’s response, has promised to rebuild the earthquake-hit regions within a year, and his government is setting up a multibillion-dollar reconstruction fund. Turkey’s leader told a donor conference on Monday that “regardless of its economic position, it is impossible for any country to fight a disaster of this scale alone.”
“Your contribution at this conference will help heal wounds and clean up the traces of this disaster,” he said via video link.
Meanwhile the natural disaster has worsened the humanitarian crisis in neighboring Syria after 12 years of civil war. At least 6,000 Syrians have been killed in the tremors and more than half a million displaced, according to the United Nations, putting the cost of recovery in Syria at $14.8 billion.
Although international aid was rapidly pouring into Turkey, by the time a single aid convoy reached Syria’s impoverished north-west, thousands of people had died under the rubble. The government in Damascus waited more than a week before agreeing to temporarily open a pair of aid routes from Turkey to northwestern Syria.
President Bashar al-Assad, who was not invited to take part in the donors’ conference on Monday, used the earthquakes to escape his international isolation imposed by the regime’s violent crackdown on his peaceful uprising in 2011 .
On Sunday, Assad arrived in the United Arab Emirates for his first visit to the Gulf country since the earthquake. The UAE has so far pledged more than $100 million in relief aid to Syria.
The Biden administration opposes countries normalizing ties with Assad. He did not coordinate earthquake relief with the Syrian government that he favored and instead directed aid through the United Nations and other relief organizations operating in the war-torn country.