May 11, 2008, Updated September 13, 2012

Volunteers from the Israeli Flying Aid team help Indonesia earthquake victims in Java in June 2006.As the death toll in Myanmar (formerly Burma) rises to more than 23,335, according to official reports, and the risk of disease mounts, Israeli relief workers have flown out to the disaster torn region.

Some experts are saying that the impact of Cyclone Nargis, which struck Myanmar on May 3, could be worse than the 2004 tsunami, if relief isn’t flown in immediately. Experts estimate that 1.5 million people have been affected by the cyclone, and some aid agencies believe as many as 100,000 people were killed in the disaster.

After the news broke, members of Israel’s volunteer umbrella organization IsraAID (The Israel Forum for International Humanitarian Aid), started brainstorming about what they could do. They decided to send a small expert team of doctors, nurses and water specialists to Myanmar to provide immediate relief.

The team would also be charged with reporting back to Israel about the next stages of relief.

“We saw on the TV what was happening in Burma and decided that we would have to try and find a way to provide assistance,” Shachar Zahavi, the director of IsraAID, told ISRAEL21c.

The executive members of IsraAID who represent 15 non-governmental organizations in Israel, selected a team of volunteers from two Israeli NGOs: Fast Israeli Rescue & Search Team (F.I.R.S.T) and Israeli Flying Aid.

Dr. Ephraim Laor, Israel’s top specialist in disaster relief, who is in direct contact with the United Nations, heads the relief team.

Mid-week satellite images from NASA didn’t look good — showing the entire coastal plains hit by the cyclone under water.

Flying in last Thursday, under the IsraAID umbrella and in partnership with the United Nations, the team is expected to stay in Myanmar for three weeks. They will know the exact location of deployment only once they fly into Myanmar’s capital city Rangoon.

They do know that the Israeli doctors and nurses will treat the sick, and the water experts will help assess what water is safest for immediate human consumption.

On Tuesday last week, thousands of bodies could be seen floating throughout rice paddies and as the death toll rises, according to media reports, those still alive are homeless and running low on food and safe drinking water.

Despite the media reports that Myanmar’s military rulers are barring certain foreign aid relief workers from entering the country, Zahavi says that the Israeli team has noticed no problems when working with the Myanmar Embassy in Tel Aviv, and foresees no problems in the future.

IsraAID and Israeli relief workers have a long history of helping people around the world in dire need, Zahavi tells ISRAEL21c

They sent relief after Hurricane Katrina, they were on the scene giving relief after the 2004 tsunami, and are continually providing support on the Chad-Sudan border, as part of a larger scale program of the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS).

Due to their dedication, passion and expertise, Israeli relief workers have played a major role in saving thousands of lives. Donations to help fund Israeli relief are provided by organizations and individuals around the world including Mark Solomon from CMS Companies in the US, The Jewish Federation of Toronto, and B’nai B’rith International.

“These are a few our constant supporters,” adds Zahavi. “They believe in Israel’s need to respond to disasters.”

For donations to Israeli relief in Myanmar, please contact

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Jason Harris

Jason Harris

Executive Director

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