Third Israeli team leaves to join relief effort for cyclone victims

IsraAID hopes to adopt a village in Myanmar to help provide long-term relief, the group's chairman, Shahar Zahavi, tells Post.

Bangladesh cyclone 224.8 (photo credit: AP)
Bangladesh cyclone 224.8
(photo credit: AP)
The Israel Forum for International Aid (IsraAID) dispatched a third relief team to Myanmar on Wednesday to help two other Israeli teams distribute aid and medical training to people affected by Cyclone Nargis. IsraAID hopes to adopt a village in Myanmar to help provide long-term relief, the group's chairman, Shahar Zahavi, told The Jerusalem Post. IsraAID should know whether it received approval within the next few days, he added. Nargis, which hit Myanmar earlier this month, is thought to have affected two million people and caused 100,000 deaths, according to the Associated Press. The first IsraAID teams left for Myanmar just four days after the cyclone struck the Delta Region. They have so far trained 500 locals in responding to large-scale disasters and distributed 10 tons of relief supplies, Zahavi said. An IsraAID member offered Myanmar Israeli expertise in rehabilitation at the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and United Nations Donor Conference last Friday, Zahavi said. Over 50 countries attended the conference, which was held in Yangon, Burma. "[Locals] usually are not well equipped with the knowledge [of how] to deal with massive casualties," Zahavi noted. "We're using Israeli skills to prepare them on how to handle the kinds of stuff they will face in the field." The third team is being led by Dr. Ephraim Laor, and the teams plan on staying for a couple of weeks, Zahavi said. However, the Myanmar government's policies are problematic in allowing IsraAID to provide assistance, said Eran Lerman, the head of the American Jewish Committee. "The Myanmar government has been very slow and in some cases downright negative. We are trying to do this carefully, and our main concern is to help a population that is under duress," he said. Still, Lerman said, the government has become more accepting of Israeli help. "We have shown the Myanmar government that we are able to help, and lots of pressure from the international community has made the government more open," he said. IsraAID initiated a similar long-term relief project in Sri Lanka after the 2004 earthquake and subsequent tsunamis ravaged the country. IsraAID continued the project in Sri Lanka for three years, according to the B'nai B'rith International Web site. The IsraAID teams in Myanmar were funded by various Jewish partners, including the AJCommittee, B'nai B'rith International, The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles and Toronto. "It's become increasingly important for us to be able to help Israel project a positive image beyond its borders," said B'nai B'rith World Center director Alan Schneider. "IsraAID allows us to partner with different Israeli humanitarian organizations and raise the Israeli flag in countries that have been hit by natural disasters." "We were able to do this thanks to different donors, especially Jewish donors, who believe in what we're doing by helping in Myanmar," Zahavi said. "These partners see these activities as a global Jewish giving."