Following offers of aid from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Reuven Rivlin, an Israeli humanitarian group specializing in disaster response has arrived in Italy to assist relief efforts after this week’s devastating earthquake.
The 20-member IsraAID team, which includes trauma specialists and search-and-rescue personnel, was the first foreign humanitarian NGO to help local counterparts with recovery efforts at the earthquake epicenter, Jewish Philanthropy reported.
A magnitude 6.2 earthquake struck central Italy on Wednesday night, killing at least 267 people. Over half of the confirmed fatalities were in Amatrice, a historic hilltop town that was brimming with visitors ahead of its annual food festival this weekend.
Some 2,100 people have taken refuge in temporary camps near the affected areas, according to Italian authorities.
Netanyahu issued a statement shortly following the disaster, saying: “I send my condolences to the people of Italy regarding the victims of the earthquake and my wishes for a quick recovery to the injured.” He also offered to send recovery and search-and-rescue teams from the Israeli military.
IsraAID’s teams often assist disaster-stricken areas across the world. Earlier this week, the group announced that it will send a delegation to aid with recovery efforts in Louisiana following the catastrophic flooding in Baton Rouge.
As of last November, IsraAID was the only foreign aid organization still on the ground in Japan, four years after the country was struck by a devastating tsunami. The organization also helped in Nepal after it was hit by two deadly earthquakes in April 2015, staying in the Asian nation for more than a year.
Earlier this year, IsraAID sent teams to Fiji after a cyclone killed over 40 people and damaged or destroyed an estimated 32,000 homes, and to Ecuador and Japan after earthquakes in those countries resulted in hundreds of deaths and widespread damage.
Last December, Oscar-winning actor Sean Penn said IsraAID’s relief work in Haiti after a 7.0 magnitude earthquake ravaged the impoverished nation in 2010 inspired his own humanitarian work on the island. That same month, after Yorkshire county in northern England suffered severe flooding, an IsraAID delegation helped rebuild destroyed homes and distribute supplies to the affected areas. “I find it heartwarming to see that a delegation from Israel is prepared to drop everything in order to reach out to those in Yorkshire who have been affected by this recent terrible crisis,” the lord mayor of Leeds said at the time.
The Muhammad Ali Center announced earlier this month that IsraAID’s COO, Navonel Glick, will receive a humanitarian award in recognition of the group’s work aiding people affected by natural disasters and other emergencies around the world.
Nathan Jeffay documented IsraAID’s efforts to assist Syrian refugees in Europe in the November 2015 issue of The Tower Magazine.
As boat after boat arrives at the Greek island of Lesbos, the refugees aboard are met by a cacophony of languages from aid workers offering help. But there is only one team of aid workers from the Middle East that can talk to these refugees from Syria, Iraq, and elsewhere in their own language. To their surprise, it is the Israeli team.
“It feels like I dreamed it,” said a bemused 26-year-old man from Damascus. “I never thought an Israeli would treat me.” His wife had just received medical help from IsraAID, a humanitarian aid agency that started working on the European refugee crisis in September. It currently has a team in Lesbos and another on the Serbia-Croatia border.
The Israeli team checked his wife, who is nine months pregnant, as she stepped off the boat, and took her to the hospital for emergency treatment. “I wouldn’t have known that she was not okay, and because of them I knew to get her attention,” he said.
[Photo: IsraAID / Facebook ]