Financial aid to Turkey and Syria increases as earthquake death toll exceeds 22,000
Governments and international organizations are stepping up financial support for Turkey and Syria as the death toll from this week’s earthquake exceeds 22,000 and millions are expected to be displaced by one of the region’s worst natural disasters.
Rescue workers continued a massive effort to dig people out of the rubble in southern Turkey and northern Syria on Friday, as the chances of survival for those trapped under buildings dwindled by the day in freezing temperatures. As the massive scale of the disaster became clearer, the international community began to pour more financial resources into the stricken region.
The World Bank is allocating $780 million to rebuild Turkey’s infrastructure and is preparing another $1 billion in support. The United States said it would provide $85 million to fund humanitarian efforts, while the EU, United Kingdom, China and Australia are among those contributing millions of dollars.
“Turkey’s immediate and future needs are enormous and span the gamut from relief to reconstruction,” said World Bank Country Director Humberto Lopez.
Dozens of countries have sent rescue workers and supplies. In addition to the dead, tens of thousands were injured in the most severe earthquake in central Turkey in recent decades, and many were left homeless.
The death toll in Turkey has reached 18,991, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said in a speech in the earthquake zone on Friday. In Syria, 3,384 people were killed, according to state media, in government-controlled areas and civil defense forces in parts of the country held by rebel groups.
In an effort to get more aid to Syria, the United States issued a six months of immunity from sanctions for all financial transactions related to rescue and recovery efforts. The exemption includes the “processing or transmission of funds” through U.S. financial institutions to support transactions related to disaster relief. This would make it possible, for example, to collect aid through fundraising platforms in the United States.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad made his first visit to the earthquake-hit region on Friday. Photos published by the state news agency Sana show him and his wife, Asma, visiting patients at the Aleppo University Hospital.
Experts welcomed the lifting of sanctions, but warned that aid delivered to Damascus could be diverted to government-controlled areas – and not to rebel-held northwest Syria, where millions of people were in dire need of aid even before Monday’s tragedy.
“The regime has always consistently used aid as collective punishment,” said Crisis Group analyst Dareen Khalife. “So I don’t foresee a scenario in which Damascus saves the population of northwestern Syria.”
The 12-year-old Syrian civil war has practically reached a stalemate, and most of the fighting is already over. But the state collapsed and the nation fractured by years of fighting, with the earthquake hitting regions divided between regime-controlled areas and opposition enclaves. This makes it difficult for aid to flow into the country, as most of it passes through Damascus. The U.N. is leading those efforts and sent more than $2 billion to Syria last year, according to U.N. figures.
Assad’s regime has long opposed humanitarian aid from Turkey to Syria and insists that all aid must go through Damascus. Asked this week whether Syria would agree to allow the UN to deliver aid from Turkey through other crossings, Syria’s UN ambassador, Bassam Sabbagh, avoided a direct answer, saying only that the government was ready to help and coordinate aid shipments “all for Syrian”. throughout Syria”.