AKRON, Pa. – Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) is sending blankets and providing locally purchased temporary shelter supplies to Iranian people affected by twin earthquakes that shook East Azerbaijan province Aug. 11. Five cities and hundreds of villages were stricken. More than 150,000 people felt the impact and more than 300 died.
MCC Disaster Response Coordinator Bruce Guenther said MCC will ship a container of about 7,500 blankets from its warehouse in Ephrata, Pa.. “We are not requesting more blankets and comforters thanks to the generosity and love of our many blanket makers,” said Guenther. The temporary shelter supplies include sleeping bags, plastic sheeting and tents, and have a value of $21,000.
The MCC effort is being carried out with partner organization Iranian Red Crescent Society (IRCS). Daryl Byler, MCC representative in the region with his spouse, Cindy Byler, said the IRCS has spoken with thousands of Iranians who were affected by the earthquakes to determine the most urgent needs. The Bylers are from Washington, D.C.
Iran is a large, earthquake-prone country with many mountainous regions. After initial relief and rescue work, the IRCS has provided medical, counseling, water supply and sanitation services. It is now distributing shelter, basic living and hygiene supplies, as well as food and potable water.
The IRCS has trained hundreds of thousands of volunteers to take action in situations like the Aug. 11 earthquakes. MCC partnered with IRCS in responding to major earthquakes in the Gilan and Zanjan provinces in northwestern Iran in 1990 and in the city of Bam in 2003.
Byler said the MCC material resources will mean earthquake-affected families will have appropriate shelter and warm bedding for the winter months.
“We are part of addressing the needs of extremely vulnerable families whose lives have been turned upside down as a result of two significant earthquakes,” said Byler. “We also are carrying out simple collaboration between organizations in countries that do not have diplomatic relations.”
There is a high level of political tension between Iran and many Western countries including the U.S. and Canada. On Sept. 7, the Canadian government severed diplomatic ties with Iran. The U.S. has not had a functioning embassy in Tehran since the 1979-81 hostage crisis, when 52 Americans were held for 444 days.
“MCC’s response to the Aug. 11 earthquakes is a symbolic gesture of our desire to see strong people-to-people relationships in spite of the poor relationships between the governments of our countries,” said Byler.
MCC’s work with partner organizations in Iran focuses on academic exchanges between Iranian universities and Anabaptist institutions of higher education in Canada and the U.S., encouraging diplomatic engagement between the countries, and relief in times of disaster.
MCC welcomes donations of money to support the earthquake response. Visit donate.mcc.org/project/iran-earthquake-response or contact any MCC office.