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IRAN: Two Weeks after Quake, Survivors Try to Pick up Pieces of Life

Ramin Mostaghim

BAM, Iran, Jan 7 2004 (IPS) - ”How much longer must our people suffer tragic disasters?” Hamid Birjandi asks, looking out at his hometown, this historic city in south-eastern Iran that has been left in ruins by the massive Dec. 26 earthquake.

”How much longer must our people suffer tragic disasters?” Hamid Birjandi asks, looking out at his hometown, this historic city in south-eastern Iran that has been left in ruins by the massive Dec. 26 earthquake.

Birjandi, who describes himself as an illicit drug trafficker, says: ”Until five years ago, I was forwarding opium in hundreds of kilos from Pakistan and Afghanistan to provide enough cash for my relatives to live decently, study, marry.”

”Now, I have unearthed the bodies of 30 of my relatives by myself,” he tells IPS.

Recently, ”I was lamenting beside the corpses of my close relatives, when the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei along with his big plainclothes body guards, happened to pass by swiftly,” he continues.

Someone shouted ‘The nation shall be sacrificed for the leader’. ”I lost my temper and loudly vented my frustration: ”No, the leader shall be sacrificed for the nation.” Then, Birjandi says, he was surrounded by Khamenei’s guards. ”But as I was for 9.5 years a POW and a war veteran, the local authorities managed to justify my impulsive reaction,” he says.

Such are the frustrations coming out in the two weeks since a 6.7 Richter-scale earthquake hit Bam, a town in Kerman province, after the grief and tears that continue to mix with anger and helplessness.

The death toll is estimated at 50,000, but may never be known. More than 100,000 have been left homeless in a city where 90 percent of buildings were damaged or destroyed.

Officially, less than 30,000 bodies have been unearthed and buried in the Bam cemetery and mosque yard – and 13,200 hospitalised in Esfehan, Bandar Ababas, Shiraz, Kerman, Jiroft and Tehran.

As the weeks pass, residents are trying to put back their pieces of their lives, hobbled by grief but also worried by livelihoods and the days ahead.

For instance, Maryam Dehghan, the 46-year-old assistant headmaster of a flattened girls’ school here, says that while her family’s small palm grove survived the earthquake, the farm hands and the cold houses for storage did not.

Yet, she knows that it is time for survivors to deal with the realities of life. That means focusing on trying to get the government to clear hundreds of tonnes of packed dates now going rancid in collapsed storage areas, and the military to ”clear and dredge the irrigation canals for the palm groves (of quake debris)”.

”If the authorities give us a hand in a timely manner, there is a chance for a good harvest of dates in September,” says Ali Haydarian, a 50-year-old owner of a one-acre palm grove in the quake-stricken village of Sifikan, north-east of Bam. Meantime, frustration is rising about the distribution of relief goods, even among Iranian volunteer workers.

Accosting IPS, one such worker says: ”Do you journalists realise that none of the Russian, European and U.S relief ends up in the hands of the quake-stricken people? Exactly like the Roudbar quake case (1990, northern Iran), the tents and clothes will be sold in Tehran’s bazaar and the well-off will buy them.”

In an interview with the reformist daily ‘Yase Nou’ Wednesday, the general manager of the Iranian Red Crescent said: ”Only seven percent of the dispatched tents were delivered in Bam the rest are missing.” He blamed the army forces who were supposed to hand out the tents.

”The authorities are behaving as if it were the first time that they have witnessed an earthquake,” remarks Abdulhssain Aslani, a businessman representing a group of merchants in Mashhad, centre of eastern Khorasan province.

”Iran is prone to fatal earthquakes, but the Iranian administration has failed to train a single team equipped with the state-of-the-art technology and management to cope with natural disasters,” he explains.

The head of the Georgian rescue team complains that the authorities are not even helping them by marking the buildings that have already been searched for survivors.

”We, the quake survivors appreciate the donations from across the country and abroad. But the reconstruction of Bam is a Herculean task and if there is no international supervision and pressure on the Iranian government, the fate of other reconstruction (efforts) in other quake-stricken areas, such as Zanjan, Roudbar Ghayenat will be repeated, ” says Zahra Ja’fari, a primary schoolteacher.

”The quake has revealed the inefficiency in every aspect of life in this area,” she adds. ”The Iranian Red Crescent has only provided tents and some common medicine. After at least three killer earthquakes in the post-revolutionary period (after 1979), they have not trained a single sniff dog or so-called ‘life detector’.”

Looking back, many survivors say they wished media had not failed to report the tremors felt ahead of the December one. ”There was a quake a week before the main killer quake, but there was no news about them in radio and television,” sobs Maryam Mosavi, 38, squatting on the debris of her big house.

”As the local media were mute about the pre-quake trembles, people confused the other tremor with minor jolts usually caused by long-range Shahab -3 missiles tested in the vicinity of Bam,” continues her husband, Hamid Asgari, a shopkeeper and seller of children’s bicycles and dolls. ”Of course the media never talked these sort of tests but there were strong rumours about them,” he tells IPS.

Now, he says, ”we have to retrieve the bicycles from the underneath of the rubble and by selling them in flea market, earn a living and provide food for five children”.

Some reformist newspapers in Tehran quote their reporters in Bam as saying that Iranian rescue workers are too many, but there is too little coordination. Emaddin Baqi, a columnist of the ‘Sharq’ reformist daily, quotes people in Bam as saying the tents may be there, but there were no latrines around.

Asked how he gets his daily dose of opium, Bibarg Shirifi, standing in a long queue for canned food, replied: ”Piece of cake, much easier than getting food and blanket – at least there is no queue for it!”

Some groups have simply decided to do their own relief work, in their own way.

”We do not trust state-run relief committees such as Imam Khameini and the Red Crescent. That is why we have loaded our relief on our 16 chartered trucks in Masjhad and brought them here to hand out among the needy in Bam,” confides Reza Borji, a merchant of readymade garments in Hevdah Sharivar district (Mashhad ‘s Bazaar).

”What these good people may not have known is that the Islamic authorities are only efficient when it comes to putting down protests and in their terror operations. Their efficiency is in death, destruction and suppression, not for life,” Potkin Azarmehr, an opposition activist based in London, writes to IPS. (END/2004)

 
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IRAN: Two Weeks after Quake, Survivors Try to Pick up Pieces of Life

Ramin Mostaghim

BAM, Iran, Jan 7 2004 (IPS) - ”How much longer must our people suffer tragic disasters?” Hamid Birjandi asks, looking out at his hometown, this historic city in south-eastern Iran that has been left in ruins by the massive Dec. 26 earthquake.
(more…)

 
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