The IsraAID humanitarian organization sent a team of seven medical professionals to Tacloban City in the storm-ravaged Philippines on Saturday night.
“It’s really hard to get any accurate numbers as far as [the scale of the] damage is concerned,” IsraAID founding director Shahar Zahavi said. “Since the area is so hard to reach right now, there’s a lot of doubt about the actual statistics. It’ll take a few days, but right now the most I can say is that people are comparing it to the 2004 [Indian Ocean] tsunami” that killed 230,000 to 280,000 in 14 countries.
“The immediate goal and first priority is to be aware of the whole injury side of the situation,” Zahavi said. “People don’t have any more health facilities, so our first goal is health intervention.”
The Foreign Ministry announced that Israel would send a search and rescue team with experience in searching damaged buildings, as well as a medical team.
A six-member advance team – four people from the IDF Home Front Command and two from the Foreign Ministry – left on Sunday night to evaluate what is needed on the ground before Israel sends a larger mission.
Israel has frequently offered aid in the wake of disasters overseas, such as the earthquake in Haiti in January 2010 and an earthquake in Turkey in 2011.
In the coming days, after the situation is better assessed, IsraAID will deploy trauma professionals and child protection specialists.
“We’ll wait to get a better understanding of the situation to decide just how many people to add,” Zahavi said.
“But trauma and child protection are usually some of the most sensitive issues in...situations like this.”
Zahavi said that he thinks there will be five to six members in each team, though that number is subject to change as they receive more information.
“After the immediate medical issues are addressed, the next concerns are issues like the influx of people who have become homeless,” Zahavi said. “And in the days after, people start getting sick, and then there’s not enough food to go around. So the needs change as the process unfolds.”
As far as a long-term timetable is concerned, Zahavi emphasized that IsraAID still maintains teams in Haiti and in Japan to aid in the recovery process following the earthquakes in 2010 and 2011, respectively.
“Our goal is not to do this in a hit-and-run type of fashion,” he said. “Our ability to maintain a presence there will depend on a lot of things like available resources and funding, but we want to provide a more holistic approach that focuses on long-term aid rather than just immediate relief.”
The Jewish Federations of North America have also mobilized a communal response to Typhoon Haiyan.
In conjunction with the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, they opened a mailbox yesterday for Federation relief efforts.
“Our thoughts and prayers go out to the Filipino people suffering from this terrible storm’s unimaginable destruction,” Cheryl Fishbein, chairwoman of JFNA’s Emergency Committee, said.
Information on how to donate to the aid groups can be found at http://jfeds.org/haiyanrelief and http://israaid.co.il/donate.