A year after the massive earthquake in Nepal, the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee`s Subcommittee for Foreign Policy and Public Diplomacy convened Wednesday to discuss the diplomatic aspects of providing humanitarian aid to disaster-stricken countries.
Subcommittee Chairman MK Michael Oren (Kulanu) opened the meeting by saying that he attaches great importance to providing humanitarian aid during disasters in other countries, noting the ”inspiring” work carried out in Nepal by the Israeli delegation and the Israeli volunteers. ”However,” he said, ”we must also examine the matter. What are the considerations behind the decision to send a delegation? What are the costs? Who decided on the delegation`s make-up and the amount of time it will spend [in the disaster-stricken country]? Do we expect anything in return? Is there a body which concentrates all the activities of the various elements? Who assesses the goals and whether or not they have been achieved?”
Sharon Kabalo, Director of the Department for Planning and External Relations in the Foreign Ministry`s Agency for International Development Cooperation (MASHAV), said ”As we are concerned, the country must operate according to the value of Tikun Olam (”repair of the world”) – to assist and offer our knowledge on a regular basis, and certainly during an emergency.” She said there are three levels of aid: Sending blankets, tents, medicines and such at a cost of $10,000-50,000; the medium level of aid, at a cost of $50,000-100,000, is broader and may consist of sending planes; and the third level, which consists of any aid costing more than the previous two sums. Activities of this scope are carried out after they are approved by a forum headed by the Foreign Ministry`s director general, which convenes in the situation room. The activities included in the first two levels are usually carried out in accordance with the department`s considerations and are funded from [MASHAV`S] budget, which is $10 million a year, $2 million of which are designated for aid. More extensive activities are carried out after the forum headed by the director general is convened. Representatives from all the relevant bodies take part in this meeting.
(Volunteers with certificates of appreciation they received following the meeting)
Mashav is responsible for the design, coordination and implementation of the State of Israel`s worldwide development and cooperation programs in developing countries.
Dr. Yossi Bertz, MASHAV`s medical affairs advisor said ”with $10 million a year it is very difficult to routinely operate on the ground in 130 countries, and also designate funds for emergencies. Therefore, we build the solution according to our capabilities, and not according to the needs on the ground. The large number of countries which operate, coupled with the fact that we are a small player on the ground, makes it very difficult for us to reap the benefits.”
Kabalo told the subcommittee that ”last year, in light of the continued budgetary problems, we began to work with the Finance Ministry in order to show what the State of Israel gains from its continue d development activity and the humanitarian aid, which is a small part of this activity. Obviously, the diplomatic reward is one of the things. There are many ministers in foreign countries who are graduates of our programs, and we monitor votes in the United Nations which are affected by our activity, but we do not have a clear analysis of the specific effects of our humanitarian aid.”
The Finance Ministry`s representative told the committee that the budget for aid delegations is found only after the political echelon decides to send out such delegations.
Ariel Dloomy, chairman of the board of directors of SID-Israel, suggested establishing a small taskforce that will recommend ways to improve the cooperation between the government, the civil bodies and the business sector.
SID-Israel is the Israeli branch of the Society for International Development (SID), an international organization recognized the world over as a leader in the field of international development. ”Israel is a very small player in this field, but we are creative and original, and we leave a great impression,” Dloomy told the subcommittee.
Numerous activists from various aid organizations attended the meeting and discussed the difficulties they face, including red tape and insufficient state funding.
MK Oren summed up the meeting by calling for the establishment of a body that would serve as a liaison between the official bodies, the third sector, and the business sector.
”The issue of funding this activity is part of Israel`s general problem of not living up to its commitments to the world,” he said. ”The lack of a sufficient budget stems, in part, from a lack of appreciation within the Israeli public for the country`s foreign relations. Familiarizing the public with your activity will lead the government to increase your budgets.”
”The spirit of Israeli volunteerism has crossed Israel`s borders a long time ago, and it has reached every place in the world,” Oren stated. ”The assistance provided by many Israelis – including travelers and members of security forces who were in the area – to the residents of Nepal after the earthquake last April, is a testament to this. They did this not out of duty, but as a privilege to save lives and provide help to all those who need it.”
Following the meeting, MK Oren presented the volunteers with certificates of appreciation. ”I am proud and excited to honor the Israelis who operated on the ground in the framework of the emergency and rescue activities in Nepal, and to thank them on behalf of the State of Israel,” Oren said. ”You are the beautiful face of Israel – thank you.”