Nepal earthquake: Church and international community coming to the aid of survivors
The Italian Bishops’ Conference has pledged € 3 million in emergency medical assistance. The South Korean Church has allocated funds for the displaced. India, Pakistan and China are already on the ground. A Chinese airline has hiked ticket fares to evacuate its nationals. Israel is selective in its help, airlifting 25 children of surrogate mothers and gay couples.

Kathmandu (AsiaNews) – Expressing his "closeness to the affected people," Pope Francis said that he was praying "for the victims, for the injured and for all those who suffer because of this disaster". At the same time, the Holy Father called on the international community to mobilise its support and show “fraternal solidarity" to the victims.

As international aid starts to arrive, the death toll soared past 3,700 on Monday. This is expected to rise largely the fact that many vulnerable mountain villages are hard to reach for rescue workers two days after the disaster.

Among the first to mobilise, the Italian Bishops’ Conference has decided to allocate €3 million (US$ 3.2 million) for emergency aid through His Excellency Mgr Salvatore Pennacchio, apostolic nuncio to India and Nepal.

In the Himalayan nation, teams from India, Pakistan, China and Israel are already at work. More of them are on their way from the United States, the United Kingdom, Singapore, the United Arab Emirates, the European Union and elsewhere.

India flew in several aircraft with medical supplies and a mobile hospital, as well as a 40-strong disaster response team with trained dogs.

The Indian Air Force also evacuated 1,935 Indian nationals through 12 aircraft sorties. And the Indian Army’s Rapid Action Medical Team (RATM) plans to set up a first aid centre in Lagankhel, eight kilometres from Kathmandu airport.

Four Pakistani C-130 aircraft arrived, carrying a 30-bed field hospital, army doctors and specialists, urban search-and-rescue teams equipped with radars and sniffer dogs, food items (including 2,000 meals), 200 tents and 600 blankets.

The Church in South Korea was also quick in reacting. The Bishop of Daejeon, Mgr Lazzaro You Heung-sik, contacted a priest from his diocese currently in the Pokhara area (near Kathmandu) where he is working with eight South Korean religious. "They're all fine, thank God,” he told AsiaNews, “but the devastation is terrible".

Yesterday, World Day of Prayer for Vocations, “There were about 7,000 youth as well as men and women religious in the cathedral. We prayed for the earthquake victims,” said Mgr You. “Meeting this morning with the Diocesan Chancery, we decided to send US$ 100,000 through the Nunciature in India, who will then they turn the money over to Bishop Simick.

“I asked the faithful to pray for the victims of Nepal,” the prelate added. “I also decided that next Sunday we would have a second fund-raiser for the victims and survivors. We hope to raise another 100,000 dollars."

The Archdiocese of Seoul has already sent about US$ 50,000 dollars. Card Yeom released a statement with a message of condolence and support for the victims.

China sent a rescue team. So far, more than 1,000 Chinese nationals have been evacuated from Nepal, but some 4,000 are still stranded in the country. And the evacuation has not been without controversies.

Whilst the Foreign Ministry said that Chinese citizens stranded in Nepal should contact China Eastern Airlines, Air China, Sichuan Airlines, and China Southern Airlines to arrange flights home, many have complained of price gouging.

A one-way ticket that used to cost 2,500 yuan (US$ 400) can now go for a low of under 8,000 yuan, offered by China Southern.

Senior Colonel Liu Xiaoguang, the military attaché at the Chinese Embassy, criticised at least one Chinese airline, without naming it, for allegedly raising ticket price and “cashing in on another country’s disaster”.

On Sunday, the Sohu news website quoted him as saying that Chinese passport holders would be flown home for nothing. However, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Beijing denied a media report to the effect that the Chinese embassy in Nepal would allow stranded passengers to fly home free.

Saturday’s earthquake hit Tibet as well, killing at least 18 people and injuring 55, local authorities said on Sunday.

More than 200,000 people were reportedly affected by various levels of damage in Nyalam and Gyirong counties, which are about 40 kilometres from the border with Nepal.

Despite big avalanches, more than 400 mountain climbers on the Tibetan side of Mount Qomolangma, as Mount Everest is known in Tibet, were reported to be "largely safe", this according to rescuers. However, more than 1,100 buildings and a temple were destroyed or heavily damaged in the area.

In Hong Kong, the Red Cross contributed HK$ 500,000 (US$ 65,000) for immediate aid work. World Vision Hong Kong said more than 200 of its staff were in Nepal ready to join the relief effort. It also said that it had contributed HK.56 million (US$ 200,000) to help survivors.

Also in Hong Kong, the Non-Resident Nepali Association (NRNA) has already purchased 1,000 blankets and 1,000 flashlights for emergency relief with supplies dropped off at the Nepali consulate. The group also plans to open a bank account soon to accept donations

Israel’s help was somewhat different. Foreign Ministry officials said on Sunday that it planned to airlift 25 infants born to surrogate mothers, along with their Israeli parents, most of them gay couples. Some 700 Israelis are currently in Nepal.

Priority for repatriation would be given to the infants and their Israeli families, Interior Ministry spokeswoman Sabine Hadad said, who added they would be "the first on the plane."