BRUSSELS (AP) — The European Commission said Monday it will support Turkey with one billion euros ($1.07 billion) to help with reconstruction in the aftermath of the earthquake that devastated parts of the country and neighboring Syria last month.
Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the EU's executive arm, also pledged 108 million euros in humanitarian aid for Syria at the opening of a donors' conference in Brussels gathering the bloc's international partners to raise money for both countries.
The magnitude 7.8 earthquake on Feb. 6 killed more than 52,000 people — the vast majority in Turkey. Nearly 300,000 buildings in Turkey either collapsed or were severely damaged, according to the country's president.
The International Rescue Committee, an aid group responding to humanitarian crises, said the situation in the region remains critical and urged donors to ensure that the U.N.’s appeal for Turkey and Syria — calling for $1 billion and $397 million respectively — is fully funded.
“The people affected by this devastating earthquake are relying on donors meeting in Brussels to step up this week,” said Tanya Evans, the IRC’s Country Director in Syria. "They need to ensure that funding is available for life-saving items including food, shelter, warm clothes and clean water, as well as support to the already weak healthcare system including the provision of medicines and medical equipment. If they fail to do so, the most vulnerable will pay the price,” she added.
The conference is hosted by the European Commission and Sweden, which holds the rotating presidency of the EU. The one-day meeting is attended by NGOs, G-20 and U.N. members as well as international financial institutions.
Survivors of the earthquake in rebel-held northwest Syria have received very little assistance because of deep divisions exacerbated by the country’s 12-year war. The EU said 15.3 million Syrians of a population of 21.3 million already required humanitarian assistance before the earthquake struck.
The bloc has been providing humanitarian aid to Syria since 2011 and wants to step it up. But it does not intend to help with reconstruction in the war-torn country, with EU sanctions against the Syrian regime of President Bashar Assad in place due to its continued crackdown against civilians.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan addressed the conference via videolink and described some of the reconstruction challenges, including deadly floods that hit parts of the earthquake zone last week.
“Some of the aftershocks have been going on for a while and they are of equal magnitude to a separate earthquake,” he said. “We have been fighting against the flood disasters and challenging weather conditions.”
Erdogan said some 298,000 buildings across 11 provinces affected by the earthquake were destroyed or left unfit for use.
“No single country can fight against such a disaster, regardless of its level of economic development,” he said, putting the cost of reconstruction at $104 billion. “Your contributions made at this conference will contribute to the healing of wounds and wipe clean the traces of this disaster.”
Andrew Wilks in Istanbul, Turkey, contributed to this report.