"The total commitments today amount to seven billion euros," Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson, whose country holds the six-month presidency of the Council of the EU, said after an international donors' conference in Brussels.

Of these 7 billion, some 950 million euros go to the Syrian population, detailed the President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen. The majority of aid pledges go to Turkey, where the death toll from the earthquake was the highest.

"A beginning"

Ms von der Leyen welcomed "a good day for international solidarity" but stressed that the conference, attended by more than 60 delegations, "was only the beginning".

Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson, whose country holds the rotating presidency of the European Union, at a press conference in Brussels after a donors' meeting for Turkey and Syria, March 20, 2023 © John THYS / AFP

"We have a lot of work ahead of us," she acknowledged, adding that a donors' conference dedicated solely to the Syrian population would be held in Brussels on June 14-15.

The Commission has pledged €108 billion in aid for Turkey's reconstruction and €500 million in humanitarian assistance to Syria. The European Investment Bank has announced €<> million in loans for Turkey.

Achim Steiner, administrator of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), called the outcome of the conference "a big step forward". "But we still have a long way to go," he said.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has estimated the total cost of the damage in his country at "some 104 billion dollars" (97 billion euros).

"It is impossible for one country to fight a disaster of this magnitude alone," he said, 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 cost of emergency repairs has been estimated by the UN at $14.8 billion (€13.8 billion).

Germany has announced that it is doubling its aid to earthquake victims to €240 million. The France indicated that it was adding twelve million to the thirty million already announced for the two affected countries.

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.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan, candidate for his own succession on 14th May promised a reconstruction at a snail's pace, "in one year".

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.

Damascus excluded

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.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu during a joint press conference in Brussels after a donor meeting for Turkey and Syria, March 20, 2023 © John THYS / AFP

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, and Damascus has agreed to allow the UN to open two more border crossings to help deliver aid.

"Let me be clear, the European Union is not working with the Assad regime. But we always support people in need," von der Leyen said, adding that aid was being delivered through humanitarian partners.

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

© 2023 AFP