Canada is providing up to $5-million in humanitarian assistance to help respond to the explosion in Beirut that has killed more than 135 people, injured thousands and left even more without their homes.
Ottawa will commit an initial $1.5-million to “trusted partners on the ground,” including the Lebanese Red Cross, to help provide emergency medical services, shelter and food, International Development Minister Karina Gould said on Twitter Wednesday evening.
The money will be funnelled from the Canadian Red Cross to the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, which will send the funds to its Lebanese branch. The rest of the $5-million will be sent in the coming days as the response warrants, she tweeted.
“Canada continues to closely monitor the situation and is in contact with humanitarian organizations in Beirut to better understand the needs on the ground. Canada stands ready to provide additional assistance to respond to this terrible tragedy, as appropriate,” Ms. Gould said.
The government said it chose the Lebanese Red Cross because it is leading the search-and-rescue efforts near the epicentre of the explosion at Beirut’s port and the money can reach the organization relatively quickly.
Many of the nearly 220,000 Canadians with Lebanese heritage watched with horror Tuesday as video spread online of the catastrophic blast, which has left an estimated 300,000 people homeless.
Still processing the horrific incident, people in Canada soon began organizing fundraising efforts to help the Beirut capital and its citizens recover.
In less than 24 hours, the Hamadis, a family with Lebanese roots living in Mississauga, said they had raised $200,000 for the Lebanese Red Cross. The family crowdfunded $100,000 in donations then matched this total.
Joe Hamadi, the former chief executive officer of Sora Group, an Ontario-based construction and real estate development company, said his family is choosing to donate to the Lebanese Red Cross because of the immediate needs of the victims of the blast.
“Thousands of people are out of their homes. People need shelter, they need food. Their homes are destroyed. They need clothing. The Lebanese Red Cross has a tremendous task caring for these people,” Mr. Hamadi told The Globe and Mail Wednesday.
About 75 young people of Lebanese descent gathered outside Toronto City Hall on Wednesday evening to brainstorm how they could best help the victims of the tragedy. Speaker after speaker at the Toronto event said that the Lebanese government could not be trusted to handle the reconstruction or to administer vital aid to the Lebanese people.
”What I’m nervous about is who is that $5-million going to?” said Jad El Tal , a 24-year-old student at the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs.
Blaming the Beirut explosion on government incompetence, he advised the group gathered in Toronto to use social media to press the Canadian government to give money as directly as possible to trusted non-governmental organizations. Mr. El Tal said that within Lebanon “the issue of corruption is fuelled by sectarianism and clientelism.”
Investigators in Lebanon have begun searching through the wreckage for clues to the cause of Tuesday’s explosion, while the government ordered port officials put under house arrest amid speculation that negligence was to blame for the detonation of 2,750 tonnes of warehoused ammonium nitrate.
In Montreal’s tight-knit Lebanese community, almost everyone knows someone overseas who has been injured or killed in the tragedy, according to Lamia Charlebois, who runs a Facebook page for the community.
Patrick Gemayel, one half of the Montreal funk duo Chromeo, posted a video to his Instagram page on Wednesday that his cousin took right after the blast shattered the windows of their family’s apartment and knocked everything off of shelves and desks.
Mr. Gemayel’s post said most of his family members are “physically fine” and some are recuperating in hospital in stable condition. He asked his nearly 32,000 followers to help by donating or spreading awareness about the dire need for help.
“I just got off some very sobering phone calls with family members. The recurring message is ‘It’s worse than what you see on your [social-media] feed,‘ ” his post stated.
Mohamad Moati of Vaughan, Ont., cited fundraising as one of the few ways to feel useful from the other side of the world. Mr. Moati, who founded a ”Lebanese in Canada” Facebook group, was on the phone with his siblings in Beirut when the blast levelled part of the city and heard the boom and the panic that followed.
"There's a sense of mixed emotion, of guiltiness for being grateful that we're in a great country like Canada, and at the same time feeling very guilty that we can't be back home with family members and friends and actually help out with the disaster," he said.
With a report from The Canadian Press
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