EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen on Monday announced that the EU and the international community had pledged €7 billion ($7.5 billion) in post-earthquake aid for Turkey and Syria at the end of a day-long donor conference in Brussels.
“I think this is a very strong signal,” Ms von der Leyen told reporters.
This includes €6.05 billion in grants and loans for Turkey and €950 million in grants for Syria, according to a statement by the EU Commission. Pledges from the EU represented more than 50 per cent of the total.
The EU Commission alone, which co-hosted the donor conference with the Swedish presidency, pledged €1.1 billion for Turkey.
The EU's lending arm, the European Investment Bank, will also provide €500 million for Turkey, suspending an almost-total ban on financing for Turkey after a row over oil and gas drilling off Cyprus nearly four years ago.
The 7.8-magnitude February 6 earthquake and its aftershocks killed more than 48,000 in Turkey and close to 6,000 in neighbouring Syria.
The total cost of the damage incurred in Turkey is estimated at $103.6 billion — the equivalent to 9 per cent of the country's gross domestic product (GDP) — said vice-president of strategy and budget at the Turkish presidency, Kutluhan Taskin.
Speaking via video link, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said international financial help was crucial for the country’s recovery.
“It’s impossible for any country regardless of its economic state to cope with a disaster of this scope alone,” he said. “Our real struggle starts now. We will reconstruct and revive all our cities destroyed in the earthquake.”
“The pledges made today will definitely contribute to our recovery and reconstruction efforts,” said Turkey's Foreign Affairs Minister Mevlüt Cavusoglu, who attended the conference.
Asked whether Turkey and Syria were normalising relations, Mr Cavusoglu said there was engagement between the two countries, not normalisation. Turkey backs rebel groups that control north-west Syria.
“We are planning a meeting at a foreign ministry level and the main purpose of all these meetings is to go in an engagement with the Syrian administration,” Mr Cavusoglu told reporters.
No Syrian government officials were present because the EU has no diplomatic relations with Damascus since the start of the 2011 civil war. The EU will not finance rebuilding efforts in the war-scarred country.
An EU official on Monday reaffirmed the bloc's stance that it would not reopen diplomatic channels with Syria or lift sanctions until a political end to the conflict was negotiated at a UN level.
Estimates of the aid needed for post-earthquake Syria vary between $7.9 billion — a World Bank assessment — and $14.8 billion — a UN assessment — said Mustafa Benlamlih, interim UN resident co-ordinator and humanitarian co-ordinator in Syria.
“The next 24 months are crucial. We need both life sustenance and early recovery,” he said.
While international rescue teams and aid flowed quickly to Turkey, humanitarian organisations faced major hurdles reaching stricken areas in northern Syria, which is still a war zone.
UN investigators last week called for an independent investigation into the failure of the international community, the UN and the Syrian government to help people in the region in the days following the earthquake.
Their criticism was echoed by human rights organisation The Syria Campaign, which set up a billboard on a lorry outside the building where the donor conference was held in Brussels that read: “Investigate UN Earthquake Aid Failures Now” and “The Failed Earthquake Response Cost Syrian Lives.”
“We’re asking why the UN, the EU and international donors missed the critical window to bring life-saving aid into Syria after the earthquake,” Rebecca Falcon, campaign manager at The Syrian Campaign, told The National. “It looks like a failure of decision-making.”