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Already on the ground in Lebanon, MCC ready to assist

The deadly explosion that ripped through Beirut August 4 has international development agencies scrambling to deal with the devastation. Long established in Lebanon, the Mennonite Central Committee already has boots on the ground.

Much of MCC’s work in Lebanon is with refugees fleeing war-torn Iraq and Syria, and the agency is now assessing how best to help with the current disaster. More than 200 people were killed and some 7,000 injured when some 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate exploded following a fire at the warehouse where it had been unsafely stored for years.

The blast caused massive damage to parts of the city, with estimates in the $10-$15 billion range, and 300,000 people temporarily homeless.

MCC personnel on the ground in the country are taking stock of the situation there to determine how best the agency can help, said MCC Ontario executive director John Head.

“We just want to evaluate what are the greatest needs and look at what other organizations are already doing or planning to do, to focus [and] coordinate [efforts].”

The group has been operating in Lebanon for years, but this is a new kind of relief effort in the area.

“Our focus has been primarily with refugees who fled Iraq and Syria and are residing in refugee camps in Lebanon,” said Head, noting the focus has been on providing food vouchers, education and general medical care.

But with the explosion, priorities are expected to change over the coming weeks to more direct care such as food and medical supplies. MCC and its partners and are looking to work together with other agencies to distribute relief assistance.

Exactly how MCC Canada will be able to assist those affected remains unclear at this time, but “it’s going to be focused around rehabilitation and cleanup efforts that resulted from the disaster,” said Head.

MCC workers in Lebanon were all safe, though some of their apartments were damaged in the blast, one extensively. The agency’s representative in the area, Garry Mayhew, was in Beirut when the tragedy occurred.

“The damage all over Beirut is extensive. It looks like a war zone,” Head quoted Mayhew as saying, adding Mayhew, his wife and two children were all safe.

MCC is currently collecting donations for the relief effort in Lebanon, in partnership with the Humanitarian Coalition. The federal government is matching funds until August 24, up to $2 million. Donations directly towards the response efforts in Lebanon can be made through the MCC’s website, by cheque or over the phone at 1-888-622-6337.

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