A destroyed business in Antakya Kucuk Sanyi Sitesi Industrial Estate in the aftermath of the deadly earthquake in Antakya
A destroyed business in Antakya Kucuk Sanyi Sitesi Industrial Estate is pictured in the aftermath of the deadly earthquake in Antakya, Hatay province, March 7, 2023. Reuters

The EU executive will give 1 billion euros ($1.1 bln) to help with reconstruction efforts in Turkey after last month's devastating earthquakes, the head of the European Commission said on Monday.

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.

"Millions are now homeless and living in tents as the winter drags on," Commission head Ursula von der Leyen told a conference held to drum up support for survivors.

"...Homes and schools and hospitals must be rebuilt, with the highest standards of seismic safety. Water and sanitation and other critical infrastructure must be repaired. Public services and businesses need capital to restart."

She said the Commission would spend a further 108 million euros on humanitarian assistance and early recovery in Syria, where the European Union does not have diplomatic ties with President Bashar al-Assad over a war that started in 2011.

The UN Development Programme (UNDP) estimated "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.

Addressing the Brussels conference via videolink, President Tayyip Erdogan put the cost of the earthquake at $104 billion, saying Turkey would rebuild 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 tense over Ankara's crackdown on dissent following a 2016 coup. More recently, Turkey has blocked a bid by Sweden - an EU member - to join NATO in the wake of Russia's war against Ukraine.

But the bloc said it mobilised millions worth 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 conference included some 400 international actors - countries, regional organisations and non-governmental groups. Not invited were the allied Syrian and Russian authorities.

The bloc has extensive 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.

Humanitarian aid in Damascus
Members of the Syrian Arab Red Crescent stand near containers carrying humanitarian aid donated by the Italian government and the EU to quake-hit Syria, in Damascus, Syria February 18, 2023. Reuters