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US announces $50 million in earthquake aid for Syria, Turkey

The funding announcement brings the total US contribution since the Feb. 6 disaster to $235 million. 
Sweden's Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson speaks during an International Donors Conference for Turkey and Syria.

WASHINGTON — The United States has announced $50 million in fresh funding for victims of last month’s powerful earthquakes that caused billions in damage to both Syria and Turkey. 

An international donors conference in Brussels was held Monday, nearly six weeks after the 7.8- and 7.5-magnitude earthquakes struck, killing more than 52,000 people across southeastern Turkey and northwest Syria.

Donors pledged a combined $7.5 billion at the conference, which was co-hosted by the European Union and Sweden. The latest tranche of assistance from the US Agency for International Development brings the total US contribution since the Feb. 6 disaster to $235 million. 

The earthquakes and their aftershocks destroyed or damaged some 298,000 buildings in 11 provinces across Turkey, where the government estimates the damage will cost $104 billion. More than 1.4 million earthquake survivors are residing in tents and around 34,000 others are in container homes, according to Turkey’s disaster management authority, AFAD.

Flash floods last week killed at least 14 people in two of Turkey’s earthquake-stricken provinces, where hundreds of thousands of earthquake survivors are sheltering in tents.

The country’s earthquake response poses a test for President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, whose political future will be decided in elections slated for May 14. Opposition parties have blamed Erdogan’s government for lax enforcement of construction standards and point to a 2018 blanket amnesty issued for buildings with code violations. 

Erdogan, who acknowledged “shortcomings” in his government’s response, pledged to rebuild the quake-ridden regions within a year, and his government is setting up a multibillion-dollar reconstruction fund. The Turkish leader told the donor conference on Monday that “regardless of its economic standing, it is impossible for any country to fight a disaster of this scale on its own.” 

“Your contributions made at this conference will contribute to the healing of wounds and wipe clean the traces of this disaster,” he said via video link. 

The natural disaster has meanwhile compounded the humanitarian crisis in neighboring Syria after 12 years of civil war. At least 6,000 Syrians were killed in the quakes and more than half a million were displaced, according to the United Nations, which put the cost of recovery in Syria at $14.8 billion.  

While international aid was quick to pour into Turkey, by the time a single aid convoy reached Syria’s impoverished northwest, thousands of people had died under the rubble. The government in Damascus waited more than a week before agreeing to temporarily open a pair of aid routes into northwest Syria from Turkey. 

President Bashar al-Assad, who was not invited to participate in Monday’s donor conference, has used the earthquakes to chip away at his international isolation imposed over the regime’s violent crackdown on its peaceful uprising in 2011.

On Sunday, Assad arrived in the United Arab Emirates for what marked his first visit to the Gulf country since the quake. The UAE has so far pledged more than $100 million in relief aid to Syria.

The Biden administration opposes countries normalizing ties with Assad. It did not coordinate its earthquake relief with the heavily sanctioned Syrian government and instead routed aid through the United Nations and other relief organizations operating in the war-torn country.

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