TEL AVIV – Israeli aid experts have been dispatched to Texas to provide emergency relief and psychosocial support to the victims of Tropical Storm Harvey.
The storm, which first hit Texas as a hurricane on Sunday, brought torrential rain that has has left at least eleven dead and tens of thousands of people homeless in Houston.
A delegation of volunteers from humanitarian aid NGO IsraAID were sent to Houston to assist in immediate disaster relief – such as cleaning homes of debris – and to offer trauma counselling.
“In crises with large-scale destruction, national and international aid efforts typically focus on practical, physical support, with limited resources allocated to the mental and emotional rehabilitation of affected populations,” said Yotam Polizer, co-CEO of IsraAID.
“For the most vulnerable groups, notably children and the elderly, time is of critical importance; the longer these groups are forced to remain in shelters, the higher the chance of long-term mental health problems such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), a disorder that can have a debilitating and long-term impact.”
“This cleaning stage is crucial to avoid major health and hygiene issues from contaminated water and open sewage,” said Polizer. “From a psychological perspective, home-owners are often so overwhelmed by the devastation and the loss of their belongings that they cannot consider the thought of filtering through their possessions to try and save anything. Part of IsraAID’s work is to separate what can be preserved.”
“The loss of people’s homes can easily put them into a downward spiral of despair and depression. Cleaning up the mess helps create a positive momentum towards rehabilitation and recovery,” Polizer added.
According to Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo, authorities have received 60,000 to 70,000 calls for help. “We just pray that the body count … won’t rise significantly,” Acevedo said.
Israeli aid group iAID is also sending a team of around 10 Israeli relief experts to assist the national guard and other American aid groups, as well as communities affected by the storm.
They will remove debris and help families salvage some of their belongings as well as create recreational spaces in shelters. Trauma counselling and other emotional support will also be offered by the volunteers.
This is not the first time that IsraAID has offered aid to Texas or the US. The organization, which has provided aid to 41 countries over the last decade, flew a seven-man relief team to Wimberley, Texas in May 2015 when the area was ravaged by floods.
IsraAID has provided aid to 41 countries in the past ten years, with multiple teams sent to help in natural disasters that have struck the U.S.