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(photo credit: Ofer Meir)
Over the last four days, a delegation of six Israeli volunteers has treated over 600 typhoon victims for water-related diseases in the Philippines, coordinated by IsraAID, a coalition of Jewish and Israeli NGOs providing relief work and education abroad.
The workers - members of the Fast Israeli Rescue & Search Team (FIRST) - arrived in the Philippines on Saturday morning, a week after typhoon Parma made landfall. Parma and typhoon Ketsana, which hit in late September, have combined to leave over 650 dead and hundreds of thousands homeless.
IsraAID received support from the American Jewish Committee, B'nai Brith International, The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, and the Jewish Federations of Toronto and Los Angeles.
"The team has mainly visited flooded areas," said Shahar Zahavi, founder and chairman of IsraAID, on Tuesday. "They've opened clinics, and along with local doctors, they've treated people for diseases resulting from standing water."
The delegation, headed by Elad Seker, is working in tandem with the American-based Operation Blessing, and will soon be joined by a much larger and more diverse medical team from IsraAID/FIRST.
"The main idea [behind the current delegation] is to assess what the needs are in the region, so we know what kind of team to assemble," said Zahavi.
"The team put up the Israeli flag in front of every clinic they opened, and people would come and take pictures with the flag," Zahavi added. "They couldn't believe that someone came all the way from Jerusalem to help them."
"There is so much love for Israel among these people," said Seker in a statement. "I am glad that we can be there for them. They cook, sleep and live on the roof. You can see boats passing through the kitchens and dining areas. I have a lot of experience in search and rescue and disaster-related issues, but I have never seen anything like this."
Israeli relief efforts in the Philippines have been largely dominated by NGOs, but the government has contributed as well.
"We purchased medicine and gave it to the Red Cross last week," said Zvi Aviner Vapni, Israel's ambassador to the Philippines. "This week we're helping out [IsraAID/FIRST]. The main issue right now is medical, so this doesn't call for [the IDF Search and Rescue Unit]. But it is still a very drastic situation."
The larger delegation from FIRST and IsraAID is currently being assembled and is scheduled to leave for the Philippines over the next few weeks.
In another aid campaign, special aid was sent last week by the Foreign Ministry and the Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) to Burkina Faso. The West African country is suffering from a severe humanitarian crisis due to recent floods, and hundreds of thousands of people have become refugees in their own country.
Through MASHAV - Israel's Center for International Cooperation - and in cooperation with the JDC, the ministry has sent the stricken country a shipment of tents, blankets, medicines and baby food.
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