Nepal: Unprecedented Relief Effort ‘Shows Israel’s True Face’
Israel medical NGOs embark on unprecedented joint-mission to earthquake-struck Nepal; ‘This is tikkun olam at its best.’
As the death toll in Saturday’s deadly earthquake passes 2,000, and with over 4,500 injured, Israeli aid teams are among the scores of international partners rushing to Nepal, which is struggling to cope with the sheer number of casualties and scale of damage.
The Israeli government has already dispatched its own team, including six IDF medical experts, a rescue team from the Home Front Command, a team from the IDF Medical Corps, and a representative from the Foreign Ministry. Those personnel will be both the general relief efforts, as well as seeking to locate some 200 or so Israelis currently either missing or stranded in the worst-hit areas.
But the devastating quake – the worst in Nepal for eight decades – has also triggered an unprecedented joint-initiative by some of Israel’s leading medical NGOs.
For the first time, United Hatzalah, Zaka and First will be embarking on a joint mission to the disaster-hit country, adding their combined weight to the Israeli team, which also includes emergency workers from Magen David Adom.
Speaking to Arutz Sheva ahead of his departure to Nepal on Sunday, United Hatzalah’s International Operations and Development Coordinator Dovi Meizels took stock of the task ahead of the Israeli team.
“It’s a unique cooperation between three Israeli emergency agencies, led by us,” he said.
The team will include doctors, paramedics, Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs), and of course search-and-rescue personnel to deal with the difficult task of locating survivors – and bodies.
Meizels – who is also a volunteer paramedic and has joined relief teams in Haiti, Japan and the Philippines, among other disaster zones – explained how apart from the sheer scale of the earthquake (which registered 6.7 on the Richter Scale), Nepal’s mountainous terrain posed an added challenge to rescue workers.
Describing the earthquake as a “world-class disaster,” he explained: “Each country’s disaster has their own characteristics: in Haiti it was a certain type of rubble and great devastation (concentrated) in the heart of one city; in Japan it was a tsunami.
“Here we have a combination of high mountains, landslides, snow avalanches and obviously earthquake devastation – buildings have collapsed, and there are villages which have not even been reached yet that have been severely struck.”
There is no doubt in his mind that the tragedy “requires an international response,” and Israel is among those leading the way.
The United Hatzalah-led joint-mission is in it for the long haul – Meizels and his fellow relief workers will be in Nepal “for a minimum of two to three weeks” – and the task ahead of them is a daunting one.
Their task will begin as soon as they touch down in Nepal, at which point they will be spirited off to the international coordination center for a briefing on the situation. Then, with the help of locals, the team will gather information on the worst-hit areas, including which sites have not yet received any relief at all yet.
“Our team will be deployed in a way that they will provide the most effective and efficient treatment,” says Meizels.
Although the Israeli rescue team will not be equipped with heavy equipment such as cranes and mechanized diggers, they will be providing crucial “light” search and rescue tasks; painstakingly digging through the rubble using pickaxes, jack-hammers and even their bare hands.
Israeli medical teams will also play a crucial role, setting up front-line clinics to treat the flood of walking wounded, as well as providing emergency first aid to those rescued from underneath the rubble.
“Many communities have been utterly destroyed… their hospital or medical center is gone – they have nothing,” explains Meizels.
“Our experience in Haiti for example is (of) people who have made it out of the rubble and have partial amputations of fingers, of limbs, etc, and do not have anywhere to go to – only us,” he added, describing the misery faced by many injured victims as they struggle to find desperately-needed medical treatment amid the chaos.
“It is very difficult. After this kind of incident you have many wounded people who have nowhere to go – and they have fractures, an infected cut – all sorts of wounds… and they have no one treating them.
“As soon as you set up camp and put up your flag people understand that there is help there and they’ll start literally lining up (for treatment). And that’s what we’re there to provide them with.”
The makeshift clinics will also have to deal with victims suffering from psychological or emotional trauma – a challenging task amid such basic conditions, but one which Meizels insists his team is well-equipped to deal with.
“We don’t have psychologists with us, but we have our experience and emotional intelligence.”
Trauma victims are often simply looking for a compassionate ear, he explains.
“In Haiti and Japan for example, where we didn’t speak the language, a pat on the shoulder a good feeling… the vibe comes through.
“People are people are people; if you come with good intentions people know you are there to help. If you put your hand out to help they’ll reach out to you.”
And while his team will be taking part in efforts to locate and treat Israeli victims, he emphasized that their main focus is on helping locals.
“Obviously with Israelis they are our countrymen, so that are in our hearts, and we’ll obviously be coordinating with the Chabad House there.
“There are so many Israeli tourists in Nepal that no matter where you set up shop you’re going to have Israelis coming in to you.”
But ultimately, he stresses, his mission “is about helping people, not only helping our own people – that’s what our organization stands for.”
It’s a mission he says Israel should be proud to lead.
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