The European Commission pledged on Monday 20 March to provide one billion euros in aid for the reconstruction of Turkey and 108 million in humanitarian assistance to Syria after the earthquakes of 6 February that killed more than 56,000 people in these two countries.

At an international donors' conference in Brussels, Commission President Ursula von der Leyen stressed that the "needs of survivors are enormous and must be addressed urgently".

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan estimated the cost of the damage in his country at "some 104 billion dollars" (97 billion euros). "Regardless of its economic status, it is impossible for a country to fight a disaster of this magnitude alone," said the Turkish leader, who was speaking via video conference.

Millions of people have seen their homes destroyed in the earthquake-affected area in south-east Turkey and northern Syria, home to a large refugee population or displaced by the Syrian conflict. In Syria, the damage is estimated at $8.9 billion by the UN, and the cost of emergency repairs at $14.8 billion.

"The situation in the affected areas remains desperate"

Germany announced that it would double its aid to the victims of the earthquake, bringing it to 240 million euros, and the France that it added 12 million to the thirty million already announced for Turkey and Syria.

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) regretted a fortnight ago the weak response to the emergency appeal launched by the UN in mid-February to raise more than a billion dollars for Turkey, and nearly 400 million dollars for Syria. The appeal for Turkey has so far been only 16% funded.

The International Rescue Committee (IRC) called on donors to ensure that these appeals are fully covered and that funds can reach humanitarian organizations on the ground "without delay".

"More than a month after the earthquake, the situation in the affected areas remains desperate. With many homes damaged or destroyed, many people have no choice but to sleep in overcrowded and under-equipped collective shelters," said Tanya Evans, IRC Syria Director.

The 7.8-magnitude tremor, followed by another nine hours later, killed 50,096 people in Turkey, according to the latest assessment of the authorities. In addition, 5,954 people have also lost their lives in Syria, according to a compilation by AFP.

In Turkey, floods hit two of the provinces affected by the quake on Wednesday, leaving about two dozen dead or missing and adding to the distress of survivors.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan, candidate for his own succession on 14th May, asked "forgiveness" from the populations affected by the earthquake for the delays in the arrival of aid and promised a reconstruction at a snail's pace, "in one year".

Damascus excluded

Although relations are often strained, Turkey is a key partner for the European Union, which has paid more than five billion euros to the country to help it cope with the reception of Syrian refugees.

"We are hosting four million refugees, including 3.5 million Syrians. As we heal our wounds, we stand in solidarity with the Syrian people, who were also affected by the earthquake," Erdogan said.

On the other hand, the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, sanctioned by the West since the repression in 2011 of the popular uprising that degenerated into civil war, is not associated with the conference. This was "deplored" by the Syrian Ministry of Foreign Affairs in a statement.

While international aid was quickly delivered to Turkey after the earthquake, humanitarian organizations faced significant difficulties in providing support to the Syrian population, particularly in the rebel-held area of Idlib (northwest).

Since then, the EU and the US have eased sanctions on Syria, while Damascus has agreed to allow the UN to open two more border crossings to help deliver more aid.

Since the earthquake, moreover, several Arab countries have resumed contact with Damascus and sent aid.

The Syrian president arrived in the United Arab Emirates on Sunday for an official visit, his second to the Gulf since the earthquake. The UAE has pledged more than $100 million in aid.

Russia, Damascus' main ally, is excluded from the Brussels donors' conference because of the war in Ukraine.

With AFP

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