The Biden administration has already provisioned $85 million for the region, which has been devastated by a series of earthquakes this month.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced during a visit to Turkey on Feb. 19 that the United States would be sending an additional $100 million aid package to assist earthquake survivors in that country and Syria.
The newly announced aid more than doubles the Biden administration’s financial commitment to rebuilding the provinces devastated by a series of powerful earthquakes that struck northern Syria and southeastern Turkey beginning on Feb. 6. The administration had also committed U.S. search and rescue teams, which have since returned home, and temporarily lifted some sanctions on the Syrian government. Full recovery from the disaster, which killed at least 43,000 people and injured many more, is likely several years and hundreds of millions of dollars away, according to experts surveyed by Al Jazeera.
After a helicopter tour of the disaster zone with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, Blinken told the Washington Post, "When you see the extent of the damage, the number of buildings, the number of apartments, the number of homes that have been destroyed, it’s going to take a massive effort to rebuild, but we’re committed to supporting Turkey in that effort."
A day after Blinken’s visit, the area was hit by another earthquake. United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres appealed to the international community to fund $1.4 billion in relief for the 10 million survivors, who are almost equally split between Turkey and Syria.
"The needs are enormous, people are suffering and there’s no time to lose," Guterres said in a statement. "I urge the international community to step up and fully fund this critical effort in response to one of the biggest natural disasters of our times."
The U.S. has so far provided $85 million to Turkey and Syria and aided in the search and rescue phase of the recovery. Hours after the first earthquake on Feb. 6, the U.S. Agency for International Development deployed two search and rescue teams to help sift through rubble and rescue victims trapped underneath collapsed buildings. However, search and rescue efforts are largely over; experts say the likelihood that there are still survivors who haven't been found after more than two weeks is small.
Increasingly, the focus is turning toward caring for survivors and beginning to rebuild the communities destroyed by the disaster. The needs in the region are overwhelming and basic: The quakes left more than one million people homeless in Turkey alone, and survivors are in desperate need of winter-proof shelter. Food, prescription medications, hygiene supplies, and clean water are all in short supply and high demand. Public health experts are warning that waterborne and foodborne diseases such as cholera, which was already spreading in war-torn northern Syria, could exacerbate the humanitarian crisis.
The situation is particularly dire in Syria, where a 12-year civil war had already created massive internal displacement and destroyed basic infrastructure. The affected areas of northern Syria are largely held by rebels fighting against the regime of Syria’s authoritarian president, Bashar al-Assad, who barred aid from reaching the north for days.
Days after the first earthquake hit on Feb. 6, the United States issued a 180-day stay on the sanctions it had imposed on Syria to allow aid to more freely flow into the opposition-held parts of the country.
Western nations, however, are refusing to provide direct foreign aid to the Assad government, which Amnesty International notes has violated international human rights law against torture and war crimes during the country's civil war. Critics of the policy say that refusing to deal directly with Assad harms the victims of the war and the earthquakes, but supporters argue that direct aid would only serve to prop up Syria's ruling regime and exacerbate violence.
Washington is instead working with nonprofits on the ground in northern Syria, as well as Syria Civil Defense, known as the White Helmets, a locally organized group of volunteer humanitarian aid workers.
In a press release, the U.S. State Department affirmed its commitment to aiding the disaster-struck regions of Turkey, using its recently adopted official name for the country, and Syria.
In both Türkiye and Syria, the United States will remain committed to doing whatever it takes, for as long as it takes, to provide necessary assistance to those affected by these earthquakes. The United States will continue to support the people of Türkiye and Syria, and we welcome and encourage support from our international partners in this time of great need.
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.