Faith-based groups respond

As the death toll in Iran grew to more than 30,000 after Friday's 6.5-magnitude earthquake, faith-based groups quickly mobilized to offer relief.

BY SUSAN KIM | BALTIMORE | December 27, 2003



"It is important at times like this to not only send needed supplies, but to also help the Iranian people play a part in the response."

—Jacob Kramer


As the death toll in Iran grew to more than 30,000 after Friday's 6.5-magnitude earthquake, faith-based groups quickly mobilized to offer relief in the face of a chaotic situation. At least 30,000 people were injured.

The best way for people to help the thousands of people affected by the earthquake in Iran is to make a cash donation to a responding group, according to leaders from faith-based disaster response and relief groups.

Church World Service (CWS) was working with the Middle East Council of Churches to assess short-term and long-term needs, and to establish plans for long-term recovery that will involve CWS partner organizations.

Lutheran World Relief (LWR) reported it is assessing priority needs and has sent staff to the disaster zone. Early requests include medical supplies, tents and bedding. Nights bring freezing temperatures in the region.

In the city of Bam, near the epicenter of the earthquake, two-thirds of the buildings were damaged by the 5 a.m. calamity yesterday, with debris that fell on sleeping residents causing heavy casualties, reported LWR.

Two hospitals in the city of Bam were reportedly destroyed and some of the wounded are being evacuated by air or taken to other towns on roads crowded with traffic.

LWR is working through the relief arm of its longtime partner, the Middle East Council of Churches, to support relief efforts in Iran. LWR is also working with the Iranian Red Crescent, and with other member agencies in the Action by Churches Together global coalition of disaster response and relief groups.

The Christian Reformed World Relief Committee (CRWRC) was also coordinating with other agencies, both throughout North America and in Iran itself, to develop a plan to get food and other essentials to earthquake survivors as fast as possible.

"It is important at times like this to not only send needed supplies, but to also help the Iranian people play a part in the response," said Jacob Kramer, CRWRC's relief coordinator. "They need to know that they can do something to overcome this tragedy."

CRWRC was working with the Iranian Council of Churches through an existing partnership through which food and aid were distributed to Afghanistan refugees living in camps inside the Iranian border. The Council has agreed act as CRWRC's network on the scene to identify areas of need and distribute food as efficiently as possible.

Baptist World Aid, the relief and development arm of the Baptist World Alliance, was working with Hungarian Baptist Aid (HBAid) to offer rescue and relief to those suffering.

HBAid has12 specialized, experienced rescue workers, two rescue dogs and two metric tons of equipment ready to deploy upon official invitation from the Iranian authorities. The special rescue team has worked in India and Turkey after earthquakes and in Hungary and Ukraine after floods.

The United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) was also responding. UMCOR reported it was in conversation with international staff and partners to prepare a long-term response plan.

Bam, an ancient city of 80,000 in southeastern Iran, is now without water or power, and health officials were already concerned about disease outbreaks. An additional 120,000 people live in surrounding villages.

Various governments are offering assistance including Russia, Germany, Switzerland and the United States.


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