UMCOR Philippines staff and volunteers bring emergency provisions to Manila-area residents affected by storms and floods earlier this month.
By David Tereshchuk*
August 16, 2012—As the international community prepares to mark World Humanitarian Day this Sunday, August 19, the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) and its partners are bringing hope and comfort to survivors of civil unrest and natural disasters in many countries across the globe.
Among the most perplexing of current emergencies is the crisis in Syria. Tens of thousands of Syrians have fled the violence in their homeland while unrest has mounted over the past year, with some 78,000 crossing into neighboring countries.
Refugee camps have had to be rapidly set up (or existing ones expanded) in Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon, and even in Iraq—a country that, following the 2003 US-led invasion, has been noted for its many refugees fleeing into Syria.
UMCOR has responded to this latest example of people suddenly pitched into desperate need with a program of purposeful support. UMCOR has taken careful account of needs, listening attentively to local humanitarian workers on the ground.
One recent, swift UMCOR action has been to provide a sizeable grant ($100,000) to its well-experienced partner in the area, GlobalMedic, which operates in more than 40 countries, including Lebanon and Northern Iraq (Kurdistan).
GlobalMedic uses the funds to ensure that “displaced Syrian families are provided with essential food and non-food items, primarily hygiene kits, to improve their wellbeing and reduce their vulnerability,” says Matt Capobianco, the agency’s manager of Emergency Programs.
In the Turkish province of Hatay, another UMCOR partner, International Blue Crescent (IBC), is providing support for Syrians who have crossed their northwestern border into Turkey and now are housed in encampments. These comprise nine tented camps near the border and one small “city” built out of shipping containers at Kilis, which can accommodate up to 20,000 refugees.
While far from ideal even as temporary homes, the provision in Turkey—besides the basics of food and other essentials—now extends to schools, mosques, medical centers, children's playgrounds, water depots, and purification units, as well as power generators.
Refugees who are members of Syria’s minority non-Muslim communities are a special focus for another UMCOR partner: International Orthodox Christian Charities, a member of the worldwide ACT alliance of church-related organizations. IOCC cultivates a close relationship with the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch and All the East (GOPA), to which many of Syria’s Christian minorities maintain a strong adherence. Minorities may feel especially vulnerable at a time of violent upheaval.
World Humanitarian Day was in part established to honor relief and aid teams for their dedication in the face of great difficulties and danger. It marks the day, August 19, 2003, when 22 international workers were killed when the United Nations center in Baghdad, Iraq, was blown up.
But the day also is meant to honor those who respond in times of natural disasters as well as civil unrest—as, most recently, in the Philippines and Iran.
Earlier this month, seasonal monsoon rains collided with Typhoon Saola (also called Gener) and caused massive flooding in the Filipino capital, Manila, and surrounding farming communities. Nearly 100 people died and half a million survivors were affected by the disaster.
UMCOR established an office in the Metro Manila area in 2009 to respond to emergencies caused by frequent storms there. One media outlet referred recently to the Philippines as a “welcome mat” for tropical storms and typhoons that regularly rampage through the archipelago.
Ciony Eduarte, who directs the UMCOR office in Cavite, quickly assembled staff and volunteers to make a rapid assessment of damages caused by the storms’ collision and to bring food and other essentials to stranded survivors.
UMCOR also provided an emergency grant to GlobalMedic to enable the agency to bring “lifesaving clean drinking water” to the affected population and help minimize the spread of waterborne diseases.
In Iran, UMCOR again partnered with International Blue Crescent to bring relief to survivors of last weekend’s devastating earthquakes in the northwestern part of the country. More than 300 people died in the quakes and more than 3,000 were injured. IBC said that some 16,000 families were left homeless.
“People are in urgent need of medical treatment, food, and hygiene materials,” IBC reported. UMCOR immediately furnished a grant of $20,000, enough to help provide 3,000 families, currently living in makeshift shelters and tents, with food and hygiene supplies for two months.
Needs will not end there, as these families will require assistance to rebuild their homes and their lives. In Iran, as in emergencies the world over, it is the compassion and dedication of humanitarians—near and far—that will see those affected through to a new day.
Your gift to International Disaster Response UMCOR Advance # 982450 will help to sustain families like those fleeing the violence in Syria or coping with loss and need in the Philippines and Iran.
* David Tereshchuk is a journalist and media analyst and a regular contributor to umcor.org. Linda Unger, UMCOR staff editor and writer, contributed to this report.