Amid massive aftershock, Nepal death tolls tops 2,150

Amid massive aftershock, Nepal death tolls tops 2,150

Israel sends aid; requests to fly surrogate mothers to Israel raise legal issues of possible human trafficking

An injured man receives treatment outside the Medicare Hospital in Kathmandu, Nepal, Saturday, April 25, 2015. (Photo credit: AP/ Niranjan Shrestha)
An injured man receives treatment outside the Medicare Hospital in Kathmandu, Nepal, Saturday, April 25, 2015. (Photo credit: AP/ Niranjan Shrestha)

A powerful aftershock shook Nepal on Sunday, making buildings sway and sending panicked Kathmandu residents running into the streets a day after a massive earthquake left at least 2,152 people dead.

The cawing of crows mixed with terrified screams as the aftershock pummeled the capital city early Sunday afternoon. At magnitude 6.7, it was strong enough to feel like an another earthquake, and came as planeloads of supplies, doctors and relief workers from neighboring countries began arriving in this poor Himalayan nation.

Saturday’s magnitude 7.8 earthquake reached from Kathmandu to small villages and to the slopes of Mount Everest, triggering an avalanche that buried part of the base camp packed with foreign climbers preparing to make their summit attempts. At least 17 people died there and 61 were injured.

The earthquake centered outside Kathmandu, the capital, was the worst to hit the South Asian nation in over 80 years. It destroyed swaths of the oldest neighborhoods of Kathmandu, and was strong enough to be felt all across parts of India, Bangladesh, China’s region of Tibet and Pakistan. By Sunday afternoon, authorities said at least 2,152 people had died, all but 60 of them in Nepal. At least 721 of them died in Kathmandu alone, and the number of injured nationwide was upward of 5,000.

But outside of the oldest neighborhoods, many in Kathmandu were surprised by how few modern structures — the city is largely a collection of small, poorly constructed brick apartment buildings — collapsed in the quake. While aid workers cautioned that many buildings could have sustained serious structural damage, it was also clear that the death toll would have been far higher had more buildings caved in.

Michael Zurin, an Israeli living in Kathmandu, told the news site Ynet that the situation in the streets was comparable to “Yom Kippur in Israel.”

“Everything on the street is shut down,” he said. “There’s hardly a bottle of water to be found. We are trying as much as possible to help people trapped in the ruins.”

The Israeli Foreign Ministry reported Sunday that there were 200 citizens who had yet to make contact, the majority of whom were not thought to be in danger. Sixty-eight Israelis were known to be in the Frozen Lakes region, and Israel was working with Nepalese authorities to rescue them.

There were also a number of very lightly wounded Israelis in Nepal, the Foreign Ministry said, and 25 newborns, born to surrogate mothers, were receiving medical treatment.

Many of the Israeli parents and their children were brought to the courtyard of the Israeli Embassy in Kathmandu, Channel 2 reported. Hundreds more Israeli travelers found shelter at the Chabad House in Kathmandu.

Representatives of the Foreign Ministry, the Interior Ministry and the Justice Ministry have been holding intensive meetings over the past 24 hours on what to do about the surrogate mothers in Nepal. Four Israeli couples have already submitted official requests to Interior Minister Gilad Erdan to allow the surrogate mothers to fly to Israel to give birth. Erdan agreed, but was told that the decision was not in his purview. Justice Ministry officials are delaying the reply due to the legal questions that the issue raises, including the question of human trafficking.

The issue is further complicated by the fact that the surrogate mothers are Indian, but Indian law does not allow them to give birth in India. Despite this, the possibility of flying the surrogate mothers to India for the births is being looked into.

The procedures of surrogacy and confirmation of paternity in Israel are complicated. A baby born to a Nepalese surrogate mother is a Nepalese citizen. To allow the baby to be flown to Israel, he or she must undergo a DNA test confirming that his or her father is Israeli. Only then does the Israeli embassy issue the infant a passport.

Due to the extraordinary circumstances, the Interior Ministry has lifted these bureaucratic hurdles for the time being, allowing the fathers to return to Israel with their babies. The Foreign Ministry is making efforts to coordinate with the Nepalese in hopes of resolving the matter as soon as possible.

An Israel Defense Forces medical assistance team, which was set to leave for Nepal at noon, is considered one of the largest humanitarian aid teams that Israel has sent abroad in recent years. It will comprise two aircraft, about 250 medical and rescue crew members, two operating rooms, four intensive-care rooms, 80 hospital beds and specialists in neonatal and adult care. It will set up the field hospital within ten hours of its landing, and the hospital will be operational Monday. The team will include dozens of army physicians in the regular army and the reserves. Col. Dr. Tarif Bader, the army’s deputy chief medical officer, will be in charge of the field hospital.

The medical delegation is set to stay in Nepal for two to three weeks, and based on past experience, a delegation from another Western country will replace it as needed (in Haiti, the Americans replaced it, and the replacements in the Philippines were German and Austrian). “We have strong capabilities in intensive care, ultrasound imaging and x-rays, as well as transferring medical knowledge that will enable computerized identification of the patients,” said Prof. Itzik Kreis, the commander of the Israeli emergency relief field hospital in Haiti, who also mentioned that this time, hundreds of Israelis will be receiving medical assistance as well.

In addition, the civilian NGO IsraAID will be sending its own disaster team to prepare for its larger Emergency Relief Team to provide relief supplies and medical services, and will prepare places for children wandering the streets with nowhere to go. “These activities will be coordinated with the national and international response strategy to ensure no duplication of resources,” a statement from IsraAID said. “Once immediate needs are met, IsraAID will draw on its world-renowned long-term capacity-building abilities, and help build national knowledge and response in the fields of mental health and psycho-social support, gender-based violence, and livelihood.”

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