EU-led donors to provide 7 bln euros to help rebuild Turkey after earthquake
- Erdogan, UNDP estimate earthquake damage at around $104 bln
- EU Commission offers $108 mln for humanitarian aid in Syria
- Russia, Syria not invited to EU-hosted donor conference
BRUSSELS, March 20 (Reuters) - Donors at a European Union-led conference on Monday pledged 7 billion euros ($7.5 bln) to help to rebuild Turkey after last month's devastating earthquakes, while Ankara estimated the costs at more than ten times that.
The Feb. 6 earthquakes were the worst natural disaster to strike modern-day Turkey with more than 56,000 people killed in Turkey and neighbouring Syria. The European Union and member country Sweden on Monday hosted the conference to drum up support.
"The total pledges today amount to 7 billion euros," said Sweden's Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson.
He said the money would "help people whose lives were destroyed in a matter of seconds and minutes" and gives hope "that rebuilding dignity and everyday life will be possible."
The number includes one billion euros from the EU's executive European Commission, half of which will be spent via the bloc's lending arm, the European Investment Bank (EIB), suspending the bank's nearly total ban on financing for Turkey in recent years.
Germany will also double its aid for those affected in Turkey and Syria to 240 million euros, Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said.
The Commission would spend a further 108 million euros on humanitarian assistance and early recovery in Syria, where the EU does not have diplomatic ties with President Bashar al-Assad over a war that had started there in 2011.
The UN Development Programme (UNDP) estimated the "total financial burden of the earthquake disaster" for Turkey at some $103.6 billion and said that amounted to 9% of the country's GDP forecast for 2023.
It estimated some 3.3 million people were forced to flee their homes and most were now living in temporary shelters. It added that some 650,000 homes would need to be rebuilt.
President Tayyip Erdogan, addressing the Brussels conference via videolink, put the cost of the earthquake at $104 billion, saying Turkey would build 319,000 homes in the first year.
"It is not possible for a single nation to tackle a crisis of this scale on its own," he said. "We will never forget the solidarity that all our friends ... have shown in these difficult days."
The EU has long accused Erdogan of human rights violations and the bloc's ties with Turkey are strained over Ankara's crackdown on dissent following a 2016 coup. More recently, Turkey has blocked a bid by Sweden to join NATO in the wake of Russia's war against Ukraine.
But the EU said it mobilised several million euros of immediate help and sent more than 1,500 rescuers to help in the hours and days following the earthquake in Turkey, which also hosts several million refugees from the war in Syria.
EU officials said the donor conference included some 400 international actors - countries, regional organisations and non-governmental groups. The allied Syrian and Russian authorities were not invited.
The bloc has sanctions on Damascus in place and said it would only finance humanitarian assistance and early recovery but not full-scale reconstruction for as long as there is no political dialogue between Assad and his adversaries.
The UNDP estimated recovery costs in Syria at $14.8 billion, saying the earthquake aggravated the already dire situation caused by the long war.
"Today, nine in 10 people in Syria live below the poverty line," said UNDP's Achim Steiner.
($1 = 0.9324 euros)
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