Governments and international organisations are stepping up financial support for Turkey and Syria as the death toll from this week’s earthquake surpassed 22,000 people, with millions expected to be displaced by one of the region’s worst natural disasters.
Rescuers on Friday continued the huge effort to dig people from the rubble across southern Turkey and northern Syria, with the odds of survival for those pinned under buildings in freezing temperatures diminishing daily. As the immense scale of the catastrophe came into clearer view, the international community has also begun to funnel more financial resources into the stricken region.
The World Bank is committing $780 million (€780 million) to help Turkey rebuild its infrastructure and preparing a further $1 billion in support. The US has said it would provide $85 million to fund humanitarian efforts, while the EU, UK, China and Australia are among those to say they would contribute millions of dollars in funding.
“Turkey’s immediate and future needs are immense and span the whole range from relief to reconstruction,” said Humberto Lopez, World Bank director for the country.
Dozens of countries have also sent rescue specialists and supplies. In addition to those who died in the worst Turkey-centred earthquake in decades, tens of thousands have been injured and more have been left homeless.
Turkey’s death toll has reached 18,991, president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said in a speech in the earthquake zone on Friday. In Syria, 3,384 have died, according to state media in government-controlled areas and civil defence forces in parts of the country held by rebel groups.
In an attempt to allow more aid to reach Syria, the US has issued a six-months sanctions waiver for all financial transactions related to the rescue and recovery efforts. The waiver includes the “processing or transfer of funds” through US financial institutions to support transactions related to the disaster response. This would allow, for example, for the collection of aid via US-based fundraising platforms.
Syrian president Bashar al-Assad made his first visit to the quake-ravaged region on Friday. Photogrphs released by the state news agency Sana showed him and his wife Asma visiting patients at Aleppo University Hospital.
Experts welcomed the sanctions waiver, while cautioning that aid delivered to Damascus could be diverted to government-run areas – and not to rebel-held north-western Syria where millions of people were in dire need of help even before Monday’s tragedy.
“The regime has always consistently used aid as collective punishment,” said Dareen Khalife, Syria analyst at the Crisis Group think-tank. “So I don’t foresee a scenario in which Damascus is going to come to the rescue of the people of north-western Syria.”
Syria’s 12-year civil war has effectively reached a stalemate, with the bulk of the fighting largely over. But the state has collapsed and the nation has been fractured by years of fighting, with the quake hitting regions divided between regime-controlled territory and opposition enclaves. This complicates the flow of aid into the country, as most of it passes through Damascus. The UN leads these efforts, sending more than $2 billion to Syria last year, according to UN data.
Mr Assad’s regime has long opposed humanitarian relief that has been delivered into Syria from Turkey, insisting all aid should come via Damascus. Asked this week whether Syria would agree to allow the UN to deliver aid through other crossing points from Turkey, Syria’s UN ambassador Bassam Sabbagh avoided a direct response, saying only that the government was ready to help and co-ordinate aid deliveries “to all Syrians in all territory of Syria”. – Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2023