Participants at a conference on Monday in the European Parliament discussed creating a platform for multilateral dialogue between the EU and Turkey to improve cooperation and identify humanitarian needs following the devastating earthquakes in Turkey and Syria in February.
Two earthquakes hit the Turkish-Syrian border on 6 February. The first one, with a magnitude of 7.7, had its centre about 34 kilometres west of the city of Gaziantep. Nine hours later, a second, 7.6 magnitude earthquake, occurred 95 kilometres north-northwest from the first, in the Kahramanmaraş Province.
Followed by over 15,000 aftershocks, the earthquakes were catastrophic, causing widespread damage in southern and central Turkey and northern and western Syria. An area of 110,000 square kilometres was affected, roughly the size of Bulgaria. 12,000 buildings collapsed, 48,000 people have died and millions more were left homeless.
In the aftermath of these earthquakes, Turkey sounded a level 4 alarm, calling for global assistance. The international community responded strongly with more than 90 countries sending search and rescue teams and over 10,000 personnel in what became the biggest search and rescue mission of all-time.
While this act of global solidarity saved thousands of lives, much more help is needed for recovery from what is now the ‘disaster of the century’. “MEPs understand the importance of solidarity in times of crisis and are committed to doing their part to support those in need,” said MEP Ryszard Czarnecki opening the conference.
“This disaster is so huge, that a few months of assistance will not be enough. We must mobilise on the long term", said Patrick Van den Eede, President of the Soul of Europe Association, promising that his association will organise several fundraising events and will make sure that the money goes exactly where it is needed.
"The most important thing to do for the earthquake survivors is to clean up the area as soon as possible", added Onur Erim, Former Chief Advisor to Ankara Municipality and chairman of Dragoman Strategies.
"By now, more than 3.7 million people have been evacuated. We are taking steps to support them financially and emotionally so that they can rebuild their lives and send their children to school,” explained Fahrettin Altun, Director of Turkish Presidential Communications.
“We offered temporary housing to some 2 million citizens in the form of available tents, container homes, student dorms, ships and guest houses," he added.
“One of the crucial immediate actions that are needed is also to help the affected region in Syria and for the UN to find a way of sending aid through Turkey instead of Damascus,” stressed Dr Koert Debeuf, Research Fellow at Oxford University and Director of the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy Europe.
"We live in a world where disasters are just around the corner and we never know where or when something will happen. I don't think we can ever be fully prepared for something like this. Rescuers from all around the world came to Turkey immediately and it still wasn't enough. All we can do is react swiftly and reconstruct as soon as possible.”
The estimated damages amount to up to $100 billion and within just two weeks only the Turkish citizens raised $6 billion in donations. “The disaster has shown that regardless of the differences we may have between Turkey and the EU, in times like these we were able to come together," Onur Erim highlighted.
“We attach great importance to the upcoming donor conference in Brussels,” concluded Fahrettin Altun, the Turkish spokesperson. The conference will take place on 20 March and is organized by the European Commission and the Swedish EU-Presidency, in coordination with the Turkish authorities. It aims at mobilizing funds from the international community in support of the earthquake victims in Turkey and Syria.